I’m going to be honest here… I have a complicated relationship with Grease 2. Heck, I might as well say it, I have a complicated relationship with Grease (1978). The franchise (mostly the first film) is widely heralded as one of the greatest Hollywood musicals ever made; however…. oh, that would be another essay. Grease 2 hits the airwaves tonight as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival and the writing on this film is… another story.
Grease 2 is a gender-swapped sequel to Grease following Michael (the adorable Maxwell Caulfield). A passing reference is made that he’s Sandy’s (Olivia Newton-John) cousin, recently moved to Rydell High from his home in England. He quickly meets and falls head-over-heels for ‘Pink Lady’ Stephanie (a pre-almost-everything Michelle Pfeiffer); however, there’s one problem… she can only date a ‘T-Bird’. Luckily for him though, she’s on-the-outs with gang leader “Nogerelli” (Adrian Zmed). Can the adorably bookish Michael get the adventurous Stephanie (who needs her man to be a “Cool Rider”) to notice him? Lorna Luft, Christopher McDonald, Peter Frechette, Tab Hunter and Connie Stevens co-star in the film. Patricia Birch directs Grease 2 from a scrip by Ken Finkleman.
I recently revisited Grease 2 for the first time in what must have been… twenty years? I checked this one out during my peak obsession with the first film and will admit to being sorely disappointed. In fact, for a number of years, I was guilty of building it up in my head as one of the worst sequels out there. However, as I sat down for a rewatch with the perspective of age behind me, I discovered it isn’t that simple.
Interestingly, the years have been very kind to Grease 2. While Grease has come to be defined by the…issues… with its ending, Grease 2 morphed from a sub-par sequel to become a rallying point for millennial feminists online. Taking all this into consideration, I was excited to sit down and rewatch this one and honestly, prove my memory wrong.
Of course, much of the film’s focus falls to Pfeiffer, who at this point was just starting on the path to stardom (most are familiar with her work in Scarface which would hit theaters the following year). In Pfeiffer and Birch’s hands, Stephanie is a bit of a ‘woman out of time’ in this 1960s period piece. She works at a garage when she’s not in school and she’s gifted with some great trailer lines telling us that she’s not your normal early 1960s woman:
“I ain’t no one’s trophy, Goose…”.
“Yeah, I’m free everyday. It’s in the Constitution…”.
In just these blurbs, it’s easy to see why this character would stand apart– especially when considering the line Sandy is known for in the first movie…
Tell me about it, stud…
The presence of Birch as director grants Grease 2 the complicated perspective brought by a woman behind the camera and this rubs off on Stephanie. As a woman watching the film in 2021, it’s easy to root for the character. Pfeiffer does have a few awkward moments (particularly surrounding the music numbers), but its easy to tell this up-and-comer is getting ready to go places.
The cast around Pfeiffer is colorful with the movie’s many early 1960s era cameos shining the brightest, particularly Tab Hunter and Connie Stevens who look to be having alot of fun.
Grease 2‘s biggest struggles come in examination of the film’s form as a period piece. The movie takes place in 1961. However, from the character work (like that mentioned above with Stephanie) to the many music numbers, and even the styling, Grease 2 doesn’t feel very 1961. Instead, it feels more a product of the 1980s looking back at the 1960s. For example, Stephanie’s big number “Cool Rider” (while being enjoyable to watch) feels far more at home in a musical of the 1970s/1980s than it would in 1961. As I listened to it, images of Meatloaf and Rocky Horror Picture Show were dancing through my brain.
In truth, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for the last few years, before I’d even rewatched the movie. It is a fun one to blare as you’re cruising down the street with your windows down; however, as I watched Grease 2, none of the musical numbers felt smoothly integrated formally. Often, there’s a very real sense on-screen that audiences are watching actors lip-synch to an off-screen playback. This is the case especially with the smaller scale scenes like “Cool Rider” and “Charades”. Director Patricia Birch is a choreographer by trade and her abilities shine though in the bigger numbers like “Reproduction” and “Score Tonight” where the size of the chorus covers the issues in the direction.
Ultimately, musicals already require such a leap of faith to be believable and Grease 2 just misses the mark somehow to incorporate the songs into the scene. While this isn’t a deal breaker for all, it can prove distracting for some.
So, with all that being said, Grease 2 proves a surprisingly complex viewing. Is this the horrendous musical sequel my brain turned it into over the last two decades? Not at all. The musical brings some fun and colorful performances to the screen with some equally entertaining songs. There are most certainly some struggles that drove this classic film fan a little crazy, but this isn’t a film that should be diminished. This is a prime example of a complex viewing experience that needed to find its voice. With the staunch love and support this movie receives with younger audiences, it seems to have finally found a home in popular culture.
Grease 2 airs tonight at 11:00pm EST as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival.