Grease 2 4EVA, I.D.S.T.
In Grease 2, sexism and patriarchal misogyny hang heavy in the air like a bad smell, but Michelle Pfeiffer rules the school – we take a closer look at the cinematic flop turned cult classic
When I was ten years old, my best friend and I transcribed the entirety of Grease, with the hopes of it becoming our end-of-year P7 musical; before pitching it, we even did a mock-casting among our peers, making valuable friendships along the way. Alas, it wasn't to be as summer lovin', car races, smoking, alcohol and unprotected sex obviously didn’t cut it with our teachers, who made us do Samson and Delilah instead.
Just like those summer days grew colder for Sandy and Danny, so too did my friendship with my then best friend when we went our separate ways, attending what were essentially rival high schools in the south of Edinburgh. But unlike Grease, fortunately for us, there was no gang of misfits showing up on our turf on the regular, challenging us at dance contests or racing us for slips.
From a young age, I fell in love with Grease – I loved the music, the fashion, the bravado of it all. But as I grew up, my heart was stolen by its successor, Grease 2, which I recently discovered I share my birthday with. Many people I speak to about Grease 2 either haven't seen it or didn't know it existed, so here's the pitch: Grease 2 is Grease's hornier younger sibling, where teenage lust rules the school, innuendos come in as thick and fast as the male actors’ five o’clock shadows, and even the teachers are concupiscent. Do I have your attention yet?
But the main question I get asked is, “Is it the same cast?” Set a couple of years after the original, the answer is both yes and no. Heeding the advice of her guardian angel, Didi Conn reprises her role as Frenchy, returning to Rydell High to get a pass in chemistry; Coach Calhoun is back, for some reason prattling on a lot about what to do if Russia invades America; everyone’s favourite principal/secretary double-act, Mrs McGee and Blanche are back and up to their old tricks, McGee still with a mild disdain for everyone; and with cars traded for motorcycles, bad guy Craterface returns as leader of the now Cycle Lords, lol.
But the core cast are all new. This year’s exchange student comes in the form of Sandy’s British cousin, the well-spoken, booksmart Michael Carrington, played by Maxwell Caulfield, and The T-Birds are headed up by Adrian Smed as Johnny Nogorelli, with the more recognisable Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore) as one of his goofy sidekicks Goose. But the pièce de résistance, Grease 2’s secret weapon, is the inimitable Michelle Pfeiffer as the effortlessly cool Stephanie Zinone, leader of The Pink Ladies. And the plot? Well that's simple – it's lust at first sight for Michael when he meets Stephanie, but unless Michael gets himself a cycle, a jacket, and becomes a member of The T-Birds, then he’s plum out of luck.
Illustration by Jonny Mowat
But Stephanie’s smarter than that. After a summer of implied fooling around with Johnny, she returns for the new school year a changed woman. “There’s got to be more to life than making out,” she sighs. Later, after an intense synchronised song and dance at the Bowl-a-Rama, she stands up to Johnny’s controlling, chauvinistic and sexist behaviour, declaring loudly, “I ain’t no one’s trophy. I can kiss who I want, when I want.” What follows is a giddy encounter for the now even more smitten Michael, who, the next day, while rehearsing for the school talent show, asks if Stephanie's free one day after school for a date, and Grease 2's very own 1960s second-wave feminist movement Barbie responds to this Ken the only way she knows how: “I’m free every day. It’s in the constitution.” Iconic.
Michael, a man, of course, is persistent, refusing to take no for an answer. But instead of being a self-righteous pig of a bully à la Johnny, he simply asks what she looks for in a guy, leading to the film’s first musical peak, Cool Rider, with lines like, “I want a whole lot more than the boy next door / I want hell on wheels”. Cue Michael’s bid to get the girl. Getting a cash-in-hand job doing homework assignments for The T-Birds, he makes enough money to buy a fixer-upper bike, and he quickly learns how to ride. During a rumble outside the bowling alley, he leaves Stephanie agog (“He wears a pair of goggles like a man from outer space / It doesn’t really matter that I haven’t seen his face,” she sings), while everyone is asking, Who’s That Guy? (“What would they say if they knew it was Michael?”)
And the drama continues right to the end: Stephanie continues to do what she wants, Michael remains mysteriously suave, and The T-Birds care about little more than shagging, maintaining their reputation and "trying to be cool". By the end, the dark undercurrent of sexism and patriarchal misogyny that courses through the veins of Grease 2 fortunately dissipates, with everyone – some more than others – coming to the conclusion that, really, you shouldn't change for anyone. Maybe I should have pitched Grease 2 to my P7 teachers?