Grease: Live premieres on Fox at the end of this month. What a great excuse, then, to rate or date the original movies. Is Dotty Winters still hopelessly devoted?
What and why: There is much to adore about Grease: the singalong classics, the cheerful innocence of it all, the incredible vocal performances and an actual flying car. This is feelgood cinema turned all the way up, and I’d challenge anyone to keep their toes from tapping when the Grease Megamix comes on at their local discotheque.
Rated or dated: I love most things about the film but it is far from perfect. Time and perspective have left the boy-meets-girl, boy-shags-girl-on-a-beach-but-doesn’t-give-girl-phone-number, boy-ghosts-girl, girl-gets-image-and-personality-makeover, girl-gets-boy storyline feeling a tiny bit icky.
Rewatching the film now, I’m struck by how little emotional journey Danny Zuko goes through; he starts the film as a manipulative narcissist, only happy when he has what he wants, and ends the film in the same way, seemingly unaware that this is a dick move. His main emotional moment of this film is when he sulks at an outdoor cinema because Sandy friend-zoned him, which makes him, like, totally realise he really does want to pump her after all. He is so oblivious he can’t even connect with the obvious symbolism of massive dancing wieners in the background.
While Danny has no depth, Sandy has a little too much mystery for my liking. Whose family goes on holiday to a faraway country and just decides to stay forever, with exactly enough notice to enrol in a school but not quite enough to inform the love of your life? She’s clearly in witness protection; I’m not sure the massive image change at the end isn’t just another move to avoid detection. What did you do, Sandy? What did you do?
There are attempts at adding some contrast to the cheese; the film contains a teen pregnancy and a grooming storyline as well as some Mean Girls levels of in-girl bitchiness, but it also contains a flying car, Beauty School Dropout and a love letter in a paddling pool, so it’s easy not to take it all too seriously.
Much of the plot is taken up with Sandy’s struggle to maintain her identity and values despite mounting peer pressure from the girl gang and Brylcreem boys. At times she demonstrates real strength of character and independent thought, but rest assured, these are not rewarded. Sandy’s storyline concludes with her abandoning her once strongly held principles and ditching everything she believes in to don an outfit that’s specifically designed to attract Danny Zuko and thrush.
Ah, bad boys and yeast infections: they go together like shoo-bop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom. DATED.
What and why: Released in 1982, Grease 2 was widely slammed and remains much ridiculed. Rotten Tomatoes awarded it a not-many-of-your-five-a-day one and a half tomatoes, dismissing the film as a shit gender-reversed rehash of the much-loved original.
Rated or dated: Rotten Tomatoes is wrong and stupid (and so is anyone who takes their advice from shop-soiled fruits). The mistake they made, like so many others before and since, is to expect Grease 2 to be a bit like its predecessor.
The original Grease was a perfect moment in time: a coming of age story for teenagers. All attempts to tackle grown-up themes were utterly swamped by a tsunami of high camp and youthful enthusiasm. In the four years that separate the films, the audience grew up, and the untempered sweetness of the first film wouldn’t have been suitable for modern palates.
People who truly wanted to see a film which stayed true to the spirit of the original would have to wait ’til 2006 for High School Musical, a film which I believe was a direct cultural consequence of the Final Destination series (but that is a thesis for another day).
Grease 2 does echo the themes of the original, but only to shine a light on a changed context. Grease 2 is a film for an audience who have discovered politics, sexism and synthetic fabrics. The overt masculinity of the original T-Birds has become toxic, turning them from macho heroes into fragile figures of fun; the shallow, boy-obsessed Pink Ladies have discovered feminism and are done with fuck-boys; even the ultra-sterile Rydell bubble has started to leak, with news of impending nuclear war looming ominously.
Having negotiated a film which contains a teenage pregnancy and a steamy holiday romance without mentioning sex at all, Grease 2 acknowledges what teenagers are actually obsessed with (spoiler alert: it’s not beauty school) by including the brilliantly explicit Reproduction and the terrifyingly rapey, Blurred-Lines-In-a-Bunker Doing it For Our Country.
“Sandy is clearly in witness protection; I’m not sure the massive image change at the end isn’t just another move to avoid detection. What did you do, Sandy? What did you do?”
One of the biggest changes is the chemistry. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John make like Mary and Joseph in a primary nativity, only together because the story demands it, while Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caufield properly sizzle. Skintight trousers make a return too, but not to win a man, only as a reason for Paulette to point out that she celebrates and understands her feminine power, and won’t be diminished by childish Johnny-shit-hair.
The virgin/whore dichotomy from Grease is back; however, not only have the gender roles reversed, but the resolution is softer. Rather than requiring one lead character to completely change their look and personality to win love, both characters change, and acknowledge the different aspects of their personality. It manages to be both totally romantic and utterly empowering; a true love story where the protagonists are both better and stronger together than apart.
And while we are talking about Pfeiffer, almost no one has ever been simultaneously hotter and cooler. The songs are just as good as the original, but the dancing (especially the large group numbers), the costumes and the zingers are better. Also, the Michael-becomes-cool-rider-while-sensibly-obtaining-a-vocational-qualification-in-mechanics montage is one of the finest montages in cinematic history.
If you haven’t seen Grease 2 in a while, dust off your VHS and sateen bomber, wipe away your preconceptions and give it another shot. RATED.4496 Views
Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.