- YEAR: 1982
- DIRECTOR: Patricia Birch
- KEY ACTORS: Michelle Pfeiffer, Maxwell Caulfield
- CERTIFICATE: PG
- IMDB SCORE: 4.4
- ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 38%
SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ It is absolutely rewatchable. I’ve not watched it as much as I have the original but it is no less addictive!
✔️ And it easily passes the Bechdel Test.
❌ But it is not sex positive! They are critical of virginity, the woman aren’t satisfied, there’s a lot of casual sexual harassment and the gender politics just aren’t good…
✔️ I do think the cast are fuckable – Michelle Pfeiffer is super hot and Michael looks really good, even if he shouldn’t speak!
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. Not sexual ones anyway! I’d wanted to be as cool as Stephanie but I wasn’t that interested in reproducing the romantic plot line.
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
STREAMING: NowTV, Sky Cinema (free with subscription), Amazon Prime (rent £3.49, buy £4.99), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com
This isn’t the first time that a sequel has been reviewed before the original – I’ve not yet written about Magic Mike despite gushing praise on Magic Mike XXL – but this is another example of when the second time around is just so much more interesting than the first! And having a female director and a better big song meant that it was an easy choice for write-up.
It’s also not my write up – this is a guest post from the wonderful Kate! She has stopped blogging but do check out her previous writing as she writes some of the best erotica I’ve read. So without further ado, I’ll hand over to her insightful opinions on a fun but (as is the case too often) problematic movie…
I don’t know when Grease 2 arrived in my world – I remember getting the 20th Anniversary VHS of the original Travolta – Newton-John Grease in 1998 when I was 12, and occasional glimpses over the years of the elusive sequel. Presumably always catching it just as Reproduction started because it was the only number I knew with any clarity, and always made me blush with its overt, raucous sexuality.
Two decades later, the plans for my 32nd birthday were simple – two good friends, takeaway food and Grease 2. I’d already forcibly sat one friend through the first film – his only commentary about twenty minutes in “Oh, I forgot there was singing in this” but he still manfully sat through the second one to make me happy. I can’t remember if I described it as “the same film as the first, but with better gender politics” or “the same film as the first, but with worse gender politics” because both, in their way, are true.
I enjoy this film for its badness. And oof, is it bad.
Stephanie (Pfeiffer) – our heroine – is a gum-chewing, eye-rolling part-time mechanic. A classic tomboy, living in pedal pushers and hastily pulling on a knee-length skirt before classes, even though it shows about as much flesh as her original outfit did in the first place (a whole feminist mood), fiercely independent and refusing to be treated as a prize, ‘awarding’ her kiss to the first man who walks through the door of the bowling alley (bowling is very important to teenagers in this universe) – which happens to be Michael (Caulfield), our ‘hero’ (term used so loosely it immediately falls off).
Ah, Michael. So pretty, fills out knitwear splendidly, so visually stimulating until he opens his mouth and you realise he’s wetter than an otter’s pocket and half as interesting. The well-known story about Grease 2 is that Michelle Pfeiffer was an unknown and it was Maxwell Caulfield who was supposed to be the big breakout star (there’s a great, Partridge-esque interview from the 80s where he waxes lyrical on his future plans. Super super cringe.)
The Michael plot is a huge part of what has made current culture so toxic – the belief that if we are rejected by a potential partner, we can wear them down until they like us. Michael – the world’s worst piano-mime – asks Stephanie out in a very straightforward manner, and she says no. He suggests another day, she says no again.
STOP ASKING HER TO GO OUT WITH YOU, SHE AIN’T INTERESTED. Cue for a song (Cool Rider). An amazing song. That spells out she wants a man who is nothing like Michael so please stop asking her out.
“I don’t want no ordinary guy coming on strong with me.” SERIOUSLY MICHAEL, FUCK OFF.
Of course she did describe the exact type of man she wants in detail, so Michael decides he will be a completely different man (biker, cool shades, also American) and this will make Stephanie go out with him.
Now, alongside this, Stephanie is shown to be doing badly at school, and Michael tutors her. During the sessions, they get to know each other and she quite likes him, which is a cue for an absolutely nauseating song, where Michael wistfully ponders if she could ever love ‘the real me’. Given that Michael has all the personality and sexual allure of dry toast, I wouldn’t bank on it.
But – SPOILER ALERT! – The Cool Rider nearly dies and then drives into a Luau (seriously, this film is fucking ridiculous) and there’s a stand off with some non-Rydell bikers and he sees them off and Jonny lets him become a T-Bird and this means Stephanie can like him which is great because he’s a biker and also smart and sensitive, and then they kiss for an unsettling amount of time with no backing music so all you can hear are wet slurping sounds and how can a film with an absolutely banging song like Reproduction in it end this badly?
So that’s your primary plot line. All the other plot strands are horrible in one way or another – Johnny (Head T-Bird) also pursuing his ex, Stephanie, whilst hanging onto Paulette who seems to have all of Marilyn Monroe’s insecurities as well as her hairstyle. DiMucci is trying to score with Sharon and thinks the best way to do this is convince her he’s going to war and should give up her V plates to him before he does (These days that would definitely fall under coercion and assault. Teenage me watching these scenes for the first time thought this was terribly romantic which tells you how appalling it is that the sequence exists, even if it accompanies one of the better songs on the soundtrack “Let’s Do It For Our Country”).
And Davey ends up with Dolores (Paulette’s little sister, the only one with any sense) who I guess is about 14, which is… icky? I can’t work out if the main cast are meant to be 16 or 18 because all the other actors are in their 20s but Pamela Adlon was 15-16 at most during filming.
I started out doing a comparison spreadsheet of every song on the two Grease soundtracks – some of the tracks are analogues of one another, most explicitly “We’ll Be Together” which is almost the exact same song as “We Go Together,” but slowed down and with terrible lyrics, particularly this verse:
I like what you got, I guess it’s okay if you wanna show it.
I am what I am, and I’m all for you, just want you to know it.
That’s Johnny reluctantly telling Paulette he’s probably OK with her wearing outfits that accentuate her body, to which she says she’s entirely his and then they do kissing. This is after he spent the entire film undermining her, telling her how to dress and pursuing her most recent ex right in front of her face.
The second set of lines makes even less sense.
Will I ever score?
There’s nothin’ wrong with just likin’ each other.
That’s DiMucci wondering if Sharon will have sex with him and her…. letting him down gently? I don’t know, they’ve got their arms around each other and spend the whole song canoodling so maybe she’s going to withhold sex forever as a punishment (fair).
Sex is, of course, something of a feature in the first Grease film, whether pursuit of (“Greased Lightning”), lying about receipt of (“Summer Lovin’”) or judgement of (“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee/There are Worse Things I could do”).
Incidentally, I always thought the line ‘lousy with virginity’ meant she hadn’t held onto hers, not that she had a lot of it. Fun. With. Words.
The songs in Grease 2, however, are definitely more overtly sexual, including the biological level (“Reproduction,” everyone’s favourite), bowling analogies (“Score Tonight”) and assault, but make it sound noble and justified (“Let’s do it for our Country”). Judgemental though the first Grease is about female sexuality, Rizzo is allowed agency, self-reflection and strength. Paulette (her equivalent in Grease 2) is in thrall to a loathsome man the whole way through. A man who has this exchange with his friends as he ogles her – beautiful, gold lame-clad – arse:
“Let’s just say I’m giving her therapy for her disease.“
Paulette deserves better.
“Reproduction,” of course, has no counterpart in the original Grease. It is singular, stunning, a masterpiece. It could have an essay all of its own, as perhaps the only remotely sex positive part of the entire movie, as well as being catchy as hell.
Firstly, Tab Hunter – a master-stroke of casting. Awkward and endearing and undeniably handsome, as only a retro heartthrob can be.
Anyway, Tab Hunter can’t control his classroom, and he can control it even less when Ms Mason (simmering sexual chemistry) appears to… observe? It’s never explained why she’s there and teachers don’t just randomly sit in on one another’s classes for shits and giggles, do they? Maybe they do. He tries to explain the process of reproduction using the example of flowers, and things deteriorate from there. The binary boys v girls back and forth is so much fun – and the women definitely come out on top, although my favourite part is DiMucci holding up a rabbit (why there’s a live rabbit in the classroom is anyone’s guess. Vivisection?) and intoning “See what happens when a boy and girl don’t know how to play it safe?”. I’m also a fan of the girl with the super-long pigtails (her and the blonde with Brigitte Bardot hair and a purple sweater get a lot of airtime and I can’t tell if this is intentional or not) who is OWNING her sexuality in that song and having a lot of fun along the way. Which leads us to:
Is Grease 2 a Sex Positive Film?
Nope. Not even close (“Reproduction” and maybe maybe Sharon’s line in “We’ll Be Together” but that’s it). The women are not sexually satisfied, the men cat call anything in a pencil skirt or a bouffant (including Ms Mason the music teacher, played by bona fide sixties sex symbol Connie Stevens, a lovely counterpart to Tab Hunter’s Mr Stuart).
There’s also a lot of jokes about how bad it is to be a virgin – The Pink Ladies holler “VIRGIN ALERT” at the twins as they walk to class, although later Paulette is aghast at the idea of dying a virgin, and during “Let’s Do It For Our Country” the implication is that Sharon is a virgin too, so this might be deflection rather than active disdain? Nah. Too deep.
Is Grease 2 a Sexy Film?
I don’t think so. I can note that Michelle Pfeiffer is hot, and so is Maxwell Caulfield until he opens his mouth – and that they are objectively sexier than their counterparts in the original (conversely I’d say the opposite is true for the Kenickie and Rizzo analogues who do not measure up). It would also be disingenuous not to say that as a teenager the film felt sexy because I was being bombarded with sex from every possible angle and I was already into historical romances at that age, largely through being exposed to Pride and Prejudice as a child. All I wanted was for a boy with a side parting to like me enough to pretend he was enlisting so we could make babies.
But as an adult, watching this ridiculous film with its brain-wormy songs and overzealous extras, it’s not sexy, it’s cringeworthy and occasionally slightly disturbing. It reinforces tired and damaging ‘get the girl’ stereotypes, and not one of the men isn’t at least a bit awful (including Eugene who appears to be faculty staff yet has trouble understanding that Michael, an English exchange student, speaks English.)
- Frenchie is back at school to get her chemistry qualification – this plot gets approx 30 screen time and is never mentioned again. Poor Frenchie, she’s just a plot device that they didn’t even need.
- I could do without the subplot making continual fun of Mr Spears’ mental instability which seems to end with him committing suicide in the pool.
- Louis DiMucci cannot kiss for shit. Poor Sharon.
- Sex Morality in the Animal Kingdom – hands up if you want to read Davey (Michael)’s essay?
- In the opening number, Dolores is adjusting Paulette’s jacket to cover her up, and Paulette keeps pushing it back – even her little sister is policing her body!
- Some solid sex jokes that I like, rightly or wrongly:
- Paulette: Rhonda, I wouldn’t fool around with nature.
Sharon: You fool around with everyone else, Paulette.
- Principal McGee: [over intercom]If you play an instrument, it’s better to play with a group than with yourself.
- Student: I’m a little worried… I’ve missed my last two periods.
Principal McGee: That’s all right, dear, you can make them up after school. [Realizes after the girl left what kind of ‘periods’ she meant, stares in horror]
- Goose: [singing] Where does the pollen go?
- Paulette: Rhonda, I wouldn’t fool around with nature.
NEXT TIME… Ginger Snaps