Many sweeping and consequential happenings gave rise to the year that was nineteen hundred and eighty-two: European anti-caning laws, the Lebanese Civil War, America’s embargo on Libyan oil imports, the birth of the Toyota Camry, computers, China, Drew Barrymore, Lethal Injection, EPCOT Center.
And Grease 2.
Yes, I said Grease 2.
Grease 2, the widely overlooked eventuality of Grease 1 (formally Grease) was made known to me by adventitiously falling from a local Blockbuster bargain bin into my young consciousness. Therein it revealed to me key tenets of feminism before I was ever aware of an invisible knapsack or what said knapsack might contain (PATRIARCHY). I’m humbled that at present I have an opportunity to awaken the next generation of young girls (and boys!) that are no doubt chasing their varied and inestimable dreams a taste of the progressivism of this classic that again, I value more than the birth of the Camry. Let’s begin:
It is 1961, two long but significant years beyond Grease 1. The first day of school has arrived, with lead Pink Lady Stephanie Zinone thriving after dismantling her oppressive relationship with ex-boyfriend Johnny Nogerelli (as a note, Italian-Americans in Grease 2 are not only well-represented, but celebrated). The keen celluloid gaze makes the viewer wonder: what will the year have in store for the newly sovereign upperclassperson?
Not a man.
Even when Michael Carrington, a respectful, genius-level high schooler with the bone structure of a CW lead shows up, Stephanie is far more interested in things like challenging conservative dress codes and day-napping. But Michael is intoxicated with Stephanie’s anti-heteronormativity. Only Frenchy, back from Grease 1 to get her high school diploma (PEDAGOGY) takes pity on the gorgeous newcomer who dresses like Connecticut and warns him: DO NOT MESS WITH STEPHANIE ZINONE- she’s a T-Bird Girl.
Or is she?
After students explore pertinent themes of sexuality through song at a local bowling alley, Johnny overestimates the depth of his socialized engenderedness by kissing Stephanie, and as a retaliation and assertion of her sexual tenacity she kisses the first guy to walk into the bowling alley: Michael. He is stoked, but no. She will not date him or anybody.
Stephanie has a specific vision of her ideal mate, and because of her high inner valuation and vested sense of self she will not settle for anything less. In a seminal song perched atop a ladder (property of Rydell High Theatre Department) Stephanie indulges, nay REVELS in the carnal, unrecompensed fantasy that is the “Cool Rider.” She even sing-spells it.
In an empowering reversal not often seen in films of this time period, Michael bends to Stephanie’s will. He forgoes his own earned and inherited strength (gorgeous eyes, fuckworthy accent, lips that won’t quit, perfect hair) for an anonymous, gravel-throated identity as a motorcyclist, taking on the female fantasy full force. He funds this endeavor by writing papers for the T-Birds in his own personal bunker and using very old-fashioned fountain pens.
After an empowered lesson in human and plant reproductive biology, the cast finds themselves at the bowling alley. There, Michael as “Cool Rider” saves the T-Birds from a rival assemblage of brutish male archetypes on motorcycles. Only in seeing an embodiment of her own wants and an overpowering of the restrictive socialized norms within the gang does Stephanie give herself over to her own, well-earned fantasy. Meanwhile, Pink Lady Sharon valiantly explores coitus for the benefit her country.
The unencumbrace of Stephanie by marked social code is emasculating to Johnny, and he vows to use force (THE LANGUAGE OF THE OPPRESSOR) if he sees the Cool Rider again. Meanwhile, Michael is back in his discount Brooks Brothers wear to help Stephanie with her failing grades. He is conflicted and drained by keeping up both the reality and fantasy, but knows he must go on to please the woman he loves.
All the while (and breaking from problematic embedded gender codes), both the Pink Ladies and T-Birds enjoy expressing themselves through song and dance within the film’s specific narrative. All take part in the school’s talent show, where Michael shows up yet again as the Cool Rider to support Stephanie in all of her endeavors. The T-Birds chase Michael away, and presumably he falls deep into a Rydell High School-adjacent chasm. Stephanie is heartbroken, but despite the possible expiration of her own sexual ideal, she perseveres. The show must go on. Stephanie is rewarded for her artistic endurance by being crowned queen of the Luau-themed prom, to which she wears a sweatshirt. Johnny is king, but soon gets soaked in pool water during the shuffle of the big reveal…
That “The Cool Rider” IS Michael Carrington. After the electrifying dichotomy is revealed, Michael is accepted into the social hierarchy of the high school. But it matters not- all he wants is the love of Stephanie, which she finally lavishes upon him. Her ideal is upheld, but her sense of understanding of the intricacies of human bonding, identity and sacrifice are not lost on her complex character.
At a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is easy to see why the subtle inner themes of Grease 2 are not wholly recognized. But as I have explained here, the Patricia Birch-directed feature and exemplifies a feminist spirit. It espouses empowerment, hope and perhaps – if we are lucky and kind enough to one another- a Grease 3.
By Rebecca Leib
Rebecca Leib is a comedian, writer and horse enthusiast living in Los Angeles, California who writes and develops content for NBC, Buzzfeed, VICE Defy, Reductress and more. authored 2015’s “one of the 32 best tweets by women comedians” by Smosh. You can follow her on twitter and instagram at @RebeccaLeib
Categories: Feminist Criticism, Women Film-makers
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