Though it came out in 1982, I watched the film Grease 2 for the first time just a few months ago.
I was with some friends, one of whom revealed that she was completely obsessed with Grease 2 as a child (something I wasn’t privy to when I decided that I liked her as a person). This surprised me; I loved the original Grease to pieces when I was a kid, but I didn’t even realize a “sequel” existed. Apparently, I was in the minority.
Wait, are you serious? You haven’t seen it? Oh my God, we’re watching it right now.
Since that day, I’ve developed an obsession with Grease 2 as powerful as my friend’s was when she was a little girl. Unfortunately, my obsession is fueled not by childhood nostalgia or innocent admiration, but by hatred. It’s the sort of hatred so weirdly powerful that it makes a person do crazy things, like look the movie up on IMDB and scour the page for credits to determine who’s to blame, or hate-watch it for a second time just a few weeks later to try to make sense of the anger it provokes. It’s the kind of hatred that starts to resemble love.
So: what IS IT with this movie? I’ve watched a lot of bad movies, but no other film has frustrated me quite like this one does. What I want to explain to you today is why Grease 2 is different than your standard so-bad-it’s-good fare. Why it’s worse.
The answer, predictably, involves Michelle Pfeiffer.
I’m just going to get a basic fact out of the way now: Grease 2 is a terrible movie. I initially considered posting a scene-by-scene dissection of how poorly-made this thing is from top to bottom, but I would just be adding my voice to the chorus. During my research (yep, I’m going to call it research), I sought out the Grease 2 episode of How Did This Get Made, which covers just about everything there is to hate about this film, from the unforgivable musical numbers to the plot’s many issues (as if a motorcycle helmet is really enough to disguise Michael as Cool Rider and fool the street-smart Stephanie — I mean, COME ON).
The thing is, I don’t hate this movie because of how bad it is. Actually, as a person who has a deep and abiding love for films like The Room and Troll 2, this kind of movie is right up my alley. I love watching stupid shit. What makes me crazy about Grease 2 isn’t what it gets wrong, but what it almost gets right — and that’s the way it handles its main character, Stephanie Zinone.
For those of you who haven’t seen the film, the basic premise is a role reversal of the original Grease. We open in 1961 with Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield), a painfully British new student at Rydell High. On his first day, Michael meets Pink Lady Stephanie and is immediately smitten because A) she’s roughly four thousand times cooler than him, and B) she’s Michelle Pfeiffer. Unfortunately, Michael is a huge fucking nerd, and Stephanie wants a Cool Rider (you know, a rider that’s cool). Michael then makes it his mission to become Cool Rider, and by donning a motorcycle helmet that covers less than half of his face and putting on an American accent, he successfully fools Stephanie into thinking he’s not Michael, but that he is, in fact, hot.
Obviously, this is an idiotic premise. However, there is an idea at play here that is almost interesting, and it’s crystallised in the character of Stephanie — the only piece of this trash fire of a movie that actually works, in no small part due to the perfectly-balanced performance of Michelle Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer moves through each scene with weightless confidence, but still gives us an occasional flicker of youthful vulnerability to remind us that while Stephanie could kick your ass in a second, she’s also still a teenager, and she has feelings, dammit.
Stephanie is a character with so much potential, and it’s clear that the movie’s creators know this. Throughout the film, we get the impression that Stephanie is fed up with the expectations that come with being a popular girl: namely, that she is expected to be dating Johnny, her ex, the leader of the T-Birds and therefore her counterpart. When one of the other Pink Ladies tells her Johnny is still interested, Stephanie scoffs, “Johnny just hasn't learned when you're dead, lie down. Besides, there's gotta be more to life than just makin' out.” Later, during a similar confrontation, she says, “Maybe I’m tired of being someone’s chick.”
This is where we reach the crux of my problem with this movie. Grease 2 introduces Stephanie Zinone, heroine of heroines, and what does it do with her? Absolutely nothing.
I have seen several arguments floating around the internet that Grease 2 is a more “feminist” version of Grease, and while I can’t speak to the intentions of the filmmakers, there are certainly echoes of second-wave feminism in the characterization of Stephanie, as well as in the concept of the “gender swap” itself. Unfortunately, a simple role reversal is not enough to tell a feminist story — especially not when the story itself does a huge disservice to its female protagonist.
Despite Stephanie’s seeming dissatisfaction with romance, the film places her at the center of a downright silly love story, and then it expects us to believe that this relationship with Michael will actually be enough to satisfy her. There are so many other directions in which they could have taken this character. What about a movie where Stephanie fights to be a part of the T-Birds, or conversely, a movie where she and the Pink Ladies decide to break their ties with the T-Birds and go solo? Or, to cite an idea posed during the Grease 2 episode of HDTGM: Stephanie works at an auto shop, so why not put her on a fucking motorcycle?!
Most movies as bad as this one are so thoroughly problematic that it’s easy to let go and enjoy them for the trash that they are. If Stephanie Zinone was a throwaway character, I doubt my feelings about Grease 2 would be anywhere near as intense as they are. The fact that this movie comes so close to getting it right is what makes the experience of watching it so infuriating. Instead of giving Stephanie the agency to do something exciting and different that might change her situation, the movie finds its center in Stephanie’s yearning for Cool Rider, cementing the antiquated idea that women have to get their kicks through the actions of men.
I would like to think that if Grease 2 were made today, Stephanie wouldn’t have to wait around for Cool Rider to show up. In a movie that deserved her, she would BE Cool Rider. Of course, we are living in a day and age where men were outraged by an all-girl Ghostbusters reboot and two Star Wars films with female leads, so it’s hard to say if Stephanie would be much better off in 2017.
About the Blog
The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.