Martha: Hello, I’m Martha. I love Grease 2. That’s pretty easy. I’ll defend this as being superior to the first Grease. Sure, we all remember the original Grease and its place in musical history cannot be contested, but, does that movie have Michelle Pfeiffer channeling her inner Debbie Harry to rock out how she wants a Cool Rider??? Or that every song is essentially about sex? And even sex in a bomb shelter? I didn’t know it was a fetish and now it’s all I want to do when I play Fallout.
Rim: Even LEONARD MALTIN wrote that Grease 2’s opening number, “Back to School” was “terrific!”
I have a special connection to this Grease – it was on cable in a seemingly constant loop all through the summer of 1984. The neighborhood girls used to play Grease 2 all the time. We’d recite The Pink Ladies Pledge at top volume. My sisters and I still quote things like “You figured out the problem with the hamburgers, no ketchup,” and “Virgin Alert! All male periscopes down!” all the time.
How did you first see it and what’s your connection to this underrated piece of genius?
Martha: By the way, that is a hell of a long intro number. For me, it was being a 90s kid and open to watching any movie that was available that could help me occupy a few hours while my parents struggled to keep us out of lower-class living. I was really into the original Grease. I watched it near religiously in a rotation between Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Rain Man. One day, I’m surprised by my mother with a copy of the unheard of Grease 2 and there’s Michelle Pfeiffer on the cover. By this point, I had a very sizable crush on her thanks in part to the BDSM primer that is Batman Returns. The line of thought from my ma was “Well, you like Grease, I guess you’ll like this, even though I never heard of it.” What strikes me most about this film is that even though it is set in the early 60s, there’s a definite 80s vibe to it, at least underlining it. Did you look at this film and think “Yeah, this is totally an 80s film set in the 60s,” especially with it being a musical teen sex comedy?
Rim: It struck me that Stephanie’s high slit purple lame dress at the Lani Kay Lani Luau was not likely in fashion for the 60s, but in general, no. I spent most of the early 80s watching teen sex comedies on 80s teen sex comedy: the one true pairing where the guy gets almost stalker like in his attempt to get the girl, the silly escapade when Louis tries to get Sharon to have sex in the bunker, the T-bird beating up Eugene, the general cluelessness of the teachers: “If you play an instrument, it’s better to play in a band than with yourself.” Etc.
I think you’re on to something here, Martha. What if Grease 2 isn’t a very good sequel to Grease but one of the best teen sex comedies of the 80s AND also a musical? What are some of your favorite musical numbers?
Martha: It is a stealth all-time great teen sex comedy because it takes a few viewings to really see its genius. Of course, when you realize how obvious they were being (with sex), maybe it isn’t as stealthy as I assumed. As a person of Polish descent, I was raised to be a bowler. My mother bowled, my father bowled. I would watch bowling on TV. In college I’d watch ESPN Classic for the old bowling tournaments. My first hi-tech cell phone had exclusively nothing but bowling games on it. What I’m getting at is that the number “Score Tonight” in which bowling serves as a euphemism for… scoring, really bowled me over as a fan of bowling and as someone who would like to have sex at some point. “Reproduction” is a goofy extended ejaculation joke and I love it. This is hard to pick a few favorites when there’s so many great songs in this film! “Cool Rider,” naturally should go without saying. Hell, even the opening song, “Back to School Again,” which serves as the re-introduction to Rydell High and introduction of a new crop of T-Birds and Pink Ladies, one of whom is none other than Pamela Adlon, the voice of Bobby Hill.
Rim: I also really love the goofiness of “Reproduction.” With none other than Tab Hunter as Mr. Stewart! “Can’t a girl just do that thing in a book where she adds up the dates of her…whattya call it? Mentalstration!”
“Score Tonight” is a fantasitc set-piece and I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t point out the genuine talent of Adrian Zmed as Johnny Nagarelli, sliding down the lane with his falsetto AAAAAH-AAH-AAAH!” I just might be your baby, tonight.
(We’ll skip by Charade, because that’s a dumb song)
It’s here we should point out that “Love Will Turn Back the Hand of Time” is a legit, bona fide good song and Michelle Pfeiffer shows off her considerable pipes and acting skills. Maxwell Caulfield is a fine fellow and I genuinely like how he plays Michael Carrington, but I never thought Michael and Steph had a ton of chemistry (they didn’t “sizzle” like Johnny and Paulette) so the heart rendering version of that song was masterful. Though I’m not sure why you go and perform in a high school talent show after a classmate has died in a horrible motorcycle accident. Especially if you almost died wearing your mother’s underwear!
Speaking of plots and characters- tell me more about that. Aside from developing a fantasy about sex in a fallout shelter, who and what do you connect with?
Martha: Before I answer that question, I need to callout that scene at the talent show when mid song, Stephanie Zinone stands crestfallen and starts singing a completely different song. Now, the response to this in the film is one of straight-forward acceptance and celebration, but if this were the real world, you’d have a lot of confusion going on. More than likely, she’s performing that song in her head and she’s actually standing quite still, nearly catatonic on stage. So, oddly I connected a lot with Stephanie – someone who wants their agency to be controlled by no one else but themselves. Of course, I had (still have) a huge crush on Michelle Pfeiffer, so that might have affected my reaction to her character more than anything.
To another extent, I connected with Michael – an outsider trying to fit in. That has been my entire life. But to a more truer extent, I’m Dolores Rebchuck – the hanger-on misfit bratty sidekick with the smart-mouth. That is me to a T. This entire film is a blatant metaphor for teenage development and I think it succeeds at showing the real anxieties of being a teen more than the original Grease and most other teen movies between then and the 21st century. Teenage years are full of identity sampling and forming social groups based on similar interests. It’s micro-colonizations among people overwhelmed by their hormones and the variety of chemical and physical mutations occurring in their bodies. I watched this film just into my pre-teens, so I gleamed quite a bit about teen behaviors from this film, despite the fact that almost all the teens were played exclusively by adults. How about you, Rim? Any characters that hold a special place in your heart? How much did this film reflect or inform your own teen experience?
Rim: What Avocado DOESN’T have a little of Dolores Rebchuck in them? I sure did- although I didn’t exactly rule the school when I became a senior – and I have no doubt Dolores did. I also had quite a bit of know-it-all Sharon in me, but I didn’t realize it. And I had a healthy dose of Paulette in me- almost willing to bend over backwards for a guy I liked until he pushed me to far and I told him off. And as a teacher, I identify with Mr. Spears having a nervous breakdown!
But what struck me most , like you, were the varying roles in each clique- the micro-colonozation as you put it. I used to watch kids in middle and high school and wonder which “role” I would take in that clique, and think about who I wanted to be. Before Buzzfeed quizzes about which Golden Girl or Sex in the City Character you are, I would wonder if I was a Rhonda or Stephanie or what. There’s a TV/ Movie trope about the classic group of 4 (or 5 – I include Dolores) and the thing is we all embody some of each. (for the record, I’m a Sophia, Carrie, and Hufflepuff)
What also makes Grease 2 stand out from other 80s teen sex comedies (aside from the music!) is that the focus is on the young women and not the young men. They are lovable doofs, mostly for comic relief, who actually learn something about how to treat the young women. (See “We’ll be Together”) Have you noticed that? What do you think about the role of the T-Birds? And is it a shame Adrian Zmed never became more famous?
Martha: Before I say anything more on Grease 2, I took a Golden Girls quiz and I’m a Blanche. Believe it or not but I transitioned a lot of my identity from the tail end of elementary school through middle school all the way up until college, so the idea that the cliques seen in media merely split components of a person’s identity into separate characters with those traits amplified is not all that far-fetched to me. Real people are complex beings, often fickle. If we really wanted to psychoanalyze this film, we could try to argue which characters represent the id, the ego, and super-ego (the raving horny T Birds are definitely a raging full-blown id, by the way).
And you mention a key factor about this movie: it is more often framed around the women of Rydell High. Sure, Michael gets ample screen time as a lovelorn “teenager,” but we’re looking at the events from the perspective of Stephanie and her demand, nay, expectation of agency. It’s feminist in that respect – a girl has as much say in her life if not all the say as anyone else and no one owns her. Not except the Cool Rider who stole away her breath and heart that night at the bowling alley. Speaking of Adrian Zmed, aside from the tragedy is that he could not break out of the 80s, his performance as Johnny is brash and full of bravado, but like that of the sweetest most innocent kid pretending to be a tough guy. Where John Travolta’s Danny was tough kid with a soft interior, Johnny is all nougat and that’s not a bad thing. He’s not one-note or one-dimensional. He always wants to appear like he’s in control, that he’s in charge, no one can challenge him, no one can upstage him. He has to be front and center. I’d like to think that before high school, little Johnny was a natural performer, in the choir or drama club and one day decided to toughen up his image. Everyone tends to reinvent themselves once they hit high school. As I mentioned before, over the course of my high school career, I reinvented myself over and over, from Hot Topic reject to a more casual punkish look. What of you, Rim? Did you ever engage in rebellious fashion, be it through fashion or personality?
Rim: That’s a really great breakdown of Johnny Nagarelli- and if he wasn’t a great match for Stephanie – he found one in Paulette Rebchuck. Paulette’s adaptation of the “Marylin Monroe look” suggests a performative streak lies within her as well. She’s often all breathy and softness, but just LISTEN to that GROWL when she sings about Johnny bowling that strike and just may being his baby tonight. Lorna Luft ( who ,BTW, is Judy Garland’s daughter) gives a lot of depth to Paulette.
Personally, ( Shut UP, SHARON!) I entered high school in the fall of 1988 INTENDING to be a rebel. I identified with the group that listened to metal music and smoked the pot. In my place and time, that group was referred to as “the burn outs.” I lost touch with my BFF through high school because I wanted so badly to be one of those kids. I dropped my honors English class because it was uncool and too much work, and coasted by with like B minus and C pluses.without cracking a book, a decision I regret to this very day. It wasn’t until about late junior year / early senior year that I discovered you could be smart AND like rock music and like to read and people – even BOYS- would think I had something interesting to say and like me. That also happily coincided with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind which really blew shit up my senior year. Suddenly ,everyone started to listen to Nirvana and re-discover the Pixies and get into hip hop and find more common ground. Other people read books and liked them! It turned out that I had common interests with lots of people who were not T-Birds or Pink Ladies and not living by “stupid rules and codes” was a good thing. No wonder that pissed Dolores Rebchuck off so much, and of course no one listened to her!
I think my final thought is : Grease 2 is a land of contrasts: part bad sequel, part bad musical, part AMAZING musical, a wonderfully female centric 80s teen sex comedy. And Michelle Pfiefer and Adrian Zmed.
We should host a Rabbit one of these days!
Martha: Not to cross pop-culture streams, but you sound quite a lot like Lindsay Weir from “Freaks and Geeks;” a smarty pants trying to fit in with the stoner cool kids. Agreed on the Rabbit. My final thoughts would be: Grease 2: Even Greasier is a film about how women are more than arm candy, catfishing was okay, and threats of nuclear war made everyone horny.
Rim: I’m SUCH a Lindsay Weir.
Rim: “ I love your hair, Ms.Mason! All 300 lbs of it!”
Rim: “There’s some really good breeding up there.”
“And that is so important!”
Rim: Johnny swallowing his cigarette…and Louis slapping him on the back after….*chef kiss* level slapstick.
Rim: “You may turn up on American Bandstand , but your beak will still be turning DOWN!”
Martha: Goose, ably played by Chris “Shooter McGavin” McDonald, and his insistence that when they win the talent show, he gets the Roy Orbison albums. Also, his pronunciation of “Or-bi-son,” declaring each syllable is priceless.
Martha: Two things this movie has in common with Halloween: Use of the song “Mister Sandman” and a male character named Michael stalking the female lead.
Martha: Why is Eugene still in high school? Aren’t nerds smart? Eugene: busting stereotypes.
Rim: maybe he’s trying to get his chemistry degree so he can open a line of cosmetics with Frenchy?
Martha: Michael goes to the bowling alley expecting to actually bowl? Also, he needs to read from a book on how to ask to bowl a game? What a dweeb.
Martha: I love that Frenchy comes back. She was easily my favorite from the original and was the sweetest person; kind but also assertive. I know she was meant to act as a guide to Michael, but I would have loved to have seen her interact more with Stephanie.
Rim: “Stephanie have you ever….read a Superman comic?”
“Not in the last few hours?”
Rim: Give it up for Sharon, who staged the whole Calendar Girls talent show piece like it was a goddamn Broadway show. Remember your “ah ah ahs!”
Martha: That routine was afforded a generous amount of time for a high school talent show.
Rim: Mr Spears, who had to take a leave of absence due to nerves shows up at the Lani Kay Lani Luau and promptly faints. My sisters and I do that impression to this day.
Rim: The twins always killed with that silly “Brad” song. With his cute little buckle that fastened in back, then at yesterdays tea dance my day turned to night, Muffy Rogers was wearing his pin! I could just die! Fun fact- “Brad” is played by Donovan’s son. And that whole exchange when Dolores asks Michael what’s going on and he just sputters “BRAD.”
Martha: I tried once to fasten a belt buckle in the back. Not recommended.
Rim: Michael spilling ink and doodling on “The Fall of Roam” paper – in the fallout shelter- to make it look legit.