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IT’S ANOTHER DIZZY BUSY NIGHT at the Southwestern restaurant: Fajitas are flying and everyone who ordered a double loin pork chop is suddenly late for the opera. My hair is a salsa mop, my black uniform is a food stain mural and the clandestine shots of Jack Daniels I’m downing with co-workers go against everything I learned in yoga class today — but I could Jivamukti myself into the fetal position and it still wouldn’t stop the madness.
But as I look out the lone window of our restaurant I am convinced that HE will come. “Who’s that guy?” all the Upper West Siders will wonder as he rides up Columbus Avenue on his manicured motorcycle. He’ll wear skintight leather and he will be wild as the wind. He is the Cool Rider, and if it takes forever then I’ll wait forever.
Each and every Saturday night at the restaurant I steal just such a brief moment to daydream of being kidnapped by the Cool Rider just as he whisked Stephanie Zinone away in the watershed movie musical Grease 2.
Played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Stephanie is the leader of the Pink Ladies. Tired of dating the T-Bird greasers, Stephanie wants to find a guy with a cycle who is cool to the core. While working at the gas station one afternoon, Stephanie grows increasingly hostile toward her demanding customers. And then suddenly from out of nowhere comes the vroom vroom heard round the world.
The Cool Rider knew exactly when to whisk her away.
What Stephanie doesn’t know is that her rescuer is actually Michael Carrington, the British foreign exchange student who was instantly smitten with Stephanie after arriving at Rydell High. [We must also be amazed that she never saw Michael and the Cool Rider in the same room at the same time.] But she wouldn’t date Michael because…well, rules are rules.
Once rejected, Michael begins to do research in the encyclopedia romatinca; he buys a bike with money earned from writing term papers for the T-Birds and practices riding it everday after school. In one great montage, Michael transforms from argyle-sweatered nerd to full-out leatherman, complete with goggles and helmet — he becomes the Cool Rider.
GET COOL OR GET OUT
You either really really “get” Grease 2 or you really really don’t. I did — at an early age.
I watched Grease 2 many many times as a child…and there were repercussions. My parents blame my inability to do basic math problems on my incessant viewing of this movie classic. My older sister didn’t speak to me from 1983 until 1985. Most tragically, my friends at elementary school stopped hanging out with me for wanting to stage a playground adaptation of a movie that they thought was way worse than the original. Tears rolled out of my eyes and onto my sticker book when I realized that they just didn’t get it.
The bottom line is that this movie has shaped the way I live, work and dream. Each day I jump into Stephanie Zinone’s escapist world and dream of telling a guy to get cool or get out.
I hope to provide some of the tools to help you revisit this film and give credit where credit is due. Perhaps new doors will open with the realization that Grease 2 is far superior to the original Grease. Soon, the notion of what is truly cool will take on an entirely new meaning (and you’ll find yourself appreciating the finer points of Michelle Pfeiffer’s early career in the cinema). For example, let’s start with the story: It’s really an early 1980s twist on West Side Story, which is really just a 1950s twist on Romeo and Juliet. By my math, it looks like Grease 2 has relevance of Shakespearean proportions. Instead of Jets versus Sharks, we’ve got T-Birds versus the Loner British Nerdy Guy. Maria singing Somewhere on her balcony is quite similar to Stephanie Zinone singing Love Will Turn Back the Hands of Time atop a mountain of dreamy white motorcylces. The comparisons don’t stop there: Instead of Leonard Bernstein classics like Tonight and I Want to Live in America we’ve got Score Tonight and Rock a Hula Luau.
Screenwriter Ken Finkleman creates characters that are bold in their intention and ambition. Geeky Michael sets his sights on Stephanie but she wants nothing to do with him. When he asks why she won’t go out with him, she tells him that he just doesn’t “get” it. This fiery scene launches into Michelle Pfeiffer’s dangerously unappreciated performance of Cool Rider, the song that is the crux of the entire film. Here is a strong young woman stating exactly what she wants and letting this nerd know that she’s not going to settle for him just because he’s got a charming accent. Dear reader, I dare you to watch this musical number without sitting on the edge of your seat wishing Michelle was singing right to you.
Attention must also be paid to the supporting cast. Adrian Zmed (_Dance Fever, TJ Hooker_) shines as Johnny Nogerelli, the leader of the T-Birds. His character has a huge emotional arc: Johnny used to date Stephanie and he spends a good portion of the movie trying to get her back. But somewhere between the bowling alley and the supermarket prowl, Johnny decides to give up on Stephanie and settle for Paulette Rebchuck. Even though she looks like she could be Johnny’s mother, she’s played with lots of spunk by Lorna Luft. It’s a musical match made in heaven — and their combined vocal talent takes the pressure off of Maxwell Caulfield’s Michael. If you need further examples, consult the song Charades. The other great duet is between Sharon and Louis, in a darling subplot of boy-wants-to-get-girl-in-bed (so he traps the girl in a fallout shelter). Louis (played by accomplished stage actor Peter Frechette) is decked out in army gear as he sings Let’s Do It For Our Country. Hell! After watching his serenade, I’d do it for our planet.
And then there’s the song Love Will Turn Back the Hands of Time. While Stephanie is supposed to sing Girl For All Seasons at the Senior Talent Show, as the curtain goes up she’s under the impression that the Cool Rider has ridden his bike off of a cliff and died. Griefstricken, she daydreams into Love…, which finds the two lead characters wearing sexy sheaths as they dance around in motorcycle heaven. They even talk in the middle of the song. Their priceless dialogue is as follows:
COOL RIDER: Stephanie, please don’t cry.
STEPHANIE: Oh, it all seems so unfair. Just when I found you I lost you.
COOL RIDER: That doesn’t matter now. The only thing that matters is the time we had together.
STEPHANIE: But…I don’t even know your name!
COOL RIDER: The only thing you need to know is that I love you. And you’re the only one who can keep our love alive. So Stephanie, don’t forget me.
STEPHANIE: I promise.
The Cool Rider eventually returns from the cliff and Stephanie is thrilled that he hasn’t actually gone to the great cool beyond. Michael then reveals his true identity to everyone — and is immediately accepted into the cool crowd. While Stephanie is confused at first, she comes to appreciate how much work Michael put into being cool. Michael’s metamorphosis not only fulfilled Stephanie’s fantasies, but it also opened up a side of himself that he hadn’t known he had; it seems that Michael Carrington was born cool but just needed a little encouragement. The next logical step, of course, is a huge luau. Graduation is coming and everyone seems happy with the way things turned out. Johnny and Paulette are stuck with each other, Sharon and Louis have decided to wait and Stephanie and Michael are cool as cukes. Like birds of a feather, they’ll be together.
It should be clear that, if given enough rope, I could go on forever about Grease 2 to further prove its legitimacy and superiority over the original. This is a film that I have long been passionate about. I refused to learn about the birds and bees from my parents because I’d memorized the song Reproduction. I was upset that they didn’t play the closing anthem We’ll Be Together at my high school graduation while I leaped up in the air with my diploma. And, of course, each time the restaurant gets busy I reach out to the Cool Rider. Just like Stephanie, I am keeping the love alive.
Grease may be the word, but Grease 2 is my world.
robin schorr is an actress and writer in new york city. grease 2 is the only movie she owns besides her bat mitzvah video.