Back to Normality...What's Normal Anyway? (A Film Series): #1

September is the month that officially has us saying au revoir to summer and hello to fall. For me, it is more of a tight hug with a friend who has been away too long, the type of hug I never want to let go from. I adore fall. I completely understand Joe Fox, in You've Got Mail: "Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address." Yes, I do and even more, I am crazy about autumn in the midwest. Though I do not have kids and it has been a number of years since I was in school, thanks to my new position at a university, fall again has an academic tie-in to my life.  

Instead of buying pencils (of which I have plenty) or scotch tape, I decide to address my love via a film series. Four weeks dedicated to the normal lives of adolescents and their high school days.

Scratch that. Normal? What is "normal" anyway? This time last year I ran a post titled Back-to-School Movie List: Underrated Movies Released in 1985 & Include a New Student as Part of the Plot. It is normal to go back to school, but how you do it is all up to you. 

I present to you Back to Normality...What's Normal Anyway: four films fueled by music and the quirkiness that is sometimes needed to address not just school, but life. Up first in this spectacular series, is not just a favorite, but a film that has indeed formed lasting friendships in my life. Ladies and Gentlemen, Pink Ladies, T-birds, and Cool Riders: Grease 2.


Grease 2 (1982)

We have all at some point in our lives both dreaded and looked forward to the start of a new academic year. What if high school was really like Grease 2 - yes the sequel not the original (Buzzfeed actually covered my feelings on this in 2013). The film came out in 1982, an amazing year for movies (exhibit: The Thing, ETBlade Runner, PoltergeistWrath of Khan, etc.) - and not coincidentally the year I was born. In the midst of robots, aliens, and the supernatural there was a girl who was not going to settle, and a boy who paid attention. 

This time at Rydell High, the lead girl does not have to be quiet and meek. Ms. Stephanie Zinone (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a feminist and, let's face it, ten times cooler than Sandy at the end of Grease. When it comes to her ex-boyfriend Johnny  - "Let's just say I outgrew him over the Summer." When asked if she is free after school - "Yeah. I'm free every day. It's in the Constitution." She makes her positions known -  "I ain't no one's trophy" and "I kiss who I want, when I want!"

Stephanie also knows how to wear an upturned collar like no one's business. Stephanie is not alone; Paulette (Lorna Luft) despite fawning over Johnny Adrian Zmed, will not let him tell her how to dress and act. Sharon (Maureen Teefy) has greater aspirations than falling for Louis's (Peter Frechette) tricks. Grease 2 is a feminist film. Especially when you take into account how the men have to change for the women in this film.

Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield -you know "oh rexy you're so sexy"), Sandy's cousin from England, basically needs to learn to fix up a motorcycle and ride it better than anyone in town in order to win the heart of Stephanie. It also doesn't help that he says lines like "Actually, I think you're kinda terrific," plays piano, is the smartest guy in school, and even has a entrepreneurial attitude. Even Johnny has to make amends with both Michael and Paulette for his rude attitude and behavior. 

Through it all, just like they did in the original, they get through school with not just snarky comebacks and great threads, but also singing and dancing. From the intro of "Back to School Again" to songs about bowling ("Score Tonight"), Pfieffer singing about her dream guy in "Cool Rider", and the cumulative talent show: "Girl For All Seasons", "Prowlin'" , "(Love Will) Turn Back the Hands of Time." Not to mention curriculum-based biology class songs about "Reproduction" or a ridiculous plan to trick a girl into bed with "Do It for Our Country."

As a kid I had a tape I would listen to over and over again. These are songs that could truly assist getting through the droll day-to-day of classes, breakups, and after school activities, such as talent shows.

The film has some returning faces: Frenchy (Didi Conn), Principal McGee (Eve Arden), Coach Calhoun (Sid Caesar), and Blanche (Dody Goodman). If you need anymore reason to watch it: Pamela Adlon as the Pink Lady in training, Dolores / Woodchuck, Tab Hunter as Mr. Stuart, a substitute that even gets a song, or to see Christopher McDonald sing and dance as Goose (as illustrated above).

With the crisp of fall in the air and the yellow buses back on their routes, I hope you will watch the trailer below and then track down the full version, which is currently streaming on Netflix. You will laugh, you will find yourself humming to the songs, and above all, your academic lesson will be that this film does not pale in comparison to the original. Instead, it stands on its own, a film anything but normal and "kinda terrific." Remember to check out the other four films in the series as I promise they too will be anything but normal.