Grease 2 is on my mind a lot under normal circumstances, but with school districts and states across the United States unveiling the myriad, well-meaning but crazy-complicated and nerve-wracking plans for sending children back into Covid Petri dishes….well, I’m thinking about Grease 2 even more these days.
I won’t bore you with the details. Short version: parents, teachers and administrators everywhere are freaked right now. Children probably are too, but remember, kids actually roll with stuff and adapt better than we give them credit for. Still, it’s a huge mess that could have potentially avoided with real leadership, and for countless political reasons I won’t get into because, as a gentle man who turned into a raging green monster used to say, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
Grease 2 never makes me angry, though. How could it, what with Michelle Pfeiffer’s sensational, swoon-worthy early career performance as my forever spirit animal Stephanie Zinone? I love her and the movie, unconditionally and damn-near pathologically. Simply put, it brings me joy. When I’m down, few movies lift my spirits quite as easily as this delightfully silly cult musical. I can’t feel anything but comfort and joy whenever I watch. That’s been a theme of most of the movies I’ve written about during this pandemic, which is no surprise. We’re looking for joy and comfort anywhere we can find it these days, as they seem to be scarce commodities right now.
Lighthearted, fun, and irreverent in all the best ways, Grease 2 is the perfect antidote to life in a time of Covid. You best believe I’ve asked myself on more than one occasion lately, “What would Stephanie do?” When I see people refusing to wear masks, or when I listen to our political representatives not only denying the truth but actually encouraging us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything’s fine, or when I see parents struggling with having to make a choice most parents have never had to make before, I wonder, “WWSD?” Stephanie’s a tough cookie, and she won’t let any man or social clique own her. She’s an iconoclast, a true individual in a world of sheeple. This is why the character has always appealed and resonated deeply with me and other fans. For me, she was an early model for how to break free from constraints the world is constantly trying to force on us. Her declaration of independence, “I’m free every day. It’s in the Constitution” has been a lifelong mantra, and lately it’s on my mind all the time.
So while I always marvel at one of my favorite Pfeiffer characters – with her wit and charm, her intelligence and independence, and her absolutely legendary rendition of “Cool Rider” – recently I’ve also been thinking a lot about the movie’s school setting, as we inch closer to the great unknown of this upcoming school year. Whether children are learning in classrooms, at home via computers and devices, or some unholy hybrid system, this year will look unlike any school year we’ve ever seen.
Grease 2 opens with the absurdly catchy good vibes of “Back to School Again.” The song starts the movie with a bang, a full-cast uptempo number with all of Rydell High’s students singing and dancing outside the school before starting their first day of classes. While lamenting the end of summer freedom – “Woe, is me, all summer long, I was happy and free” – the song also captures that magical first-day feeling, when the possibilities for a great year ahead haven’t been sullied by mounds of homework, mean kids, or failing grades yet:
I got my books together and I dragged my feet
Then I saw this angel boppin’ down the street
I said, “Hey, pretty baby, hows about a date?”
She said, “I’m going to school and I can’t be late”Well, I can see that look in her eyes was sayin’, ‘Follow me’
And I was caught, I thought of playing hooky but on second thought
I gotta go back, back, back to school again
You won’t find me ’til the clock strikes three
For teachers, parents, and students this new school year is likely to feel intensely weird, frightening, and frustrating. Going back to school at the end of summer will feel like the polar opposite of the devil-may-care coolness exhibited by Stephanie and her Pink Ladies during “Back to School Again.” That’s sad. I’m sad for my twins, sad that they might not get the opportunity to have that first day of kindergarten in a classroom. I’m also sad that they have to live under threat of a virus they can’t comprehend yet. I’ll also be overwhelmingly sad and terrified for kids who are in classrooms that first day, and beyond.
All the while, though, I’ll try to hum “Back to School Again” ‘and hope like hell that at some point, to paraphrase Stephanie, things won’t be weird weird anymore, but like exciting weird.