'Grease' prequel ‘Summer Loving’ needs to learn from the mistakes of the original and bring the 50s to a post-MeToo era audience
For a lot of people out there, 'Grease' isn't just a movie, it's an institution. Women of a certain age, who've watched the movie over and over again throughout their lives, have been sharing inside-jokes with friends, family members, and colleagues for years, without realizing the unseemly messages the movie was giving out at the time. However, now a completely different generation is discovering the movie, and it is quite interesting to see how the classic musical is now being called out for its inappropriateness.
As youngsters, 'Grease' looked like a movie mostly about poodle skirts, drinking milkshakes in diners, having girly sleepovers with your friends, and singing songs with made-up words. Considering the film was set in the 1950s, it could be forgiven for being a little backward. However, now that Paramount is coming up with a prequel to the original 'Grease', the onus is on the movie makers to not only keep the 50s vibe in the movie alive, but also to achieve it in an appropriate manner.
The upcoming prequel, appropriately titled 'Summer Loving', is set to delve deeper into Danny and Sandy's summer romance, but what will be more interesting to see is how the filmmakers manage to portray Danny, previously played by John Travolta, and Sandy, played by Olivia Newton-John, in the new light of the 21st century, where the audience's tolerance for insensitive content is extremely low, given that we live in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.
Therefore, what one needs to really think about is this. Is it really possible to take a "woke" approach towards a movie set in the 50s? Take for example the plot of the original movie; all it did for its viewers was glorify smoking, changing your own personality to suit the boy you like, and being provocative but not-too-much. 'Grease' is the word, except when those words are horribly inappropriate in a modern context.
Take for example the first song of the movie, 'Summer Nights'. While a coy Sandy spins a tale of an innocent summer romance to her girlfriends, Danny, the quintessential bad boy describes (inappropriately) to his friends how he went “all the way” with a girl from Australia. When his friends ask, “Did she put up a fight?”, there is no reply of a denial, subtly indicating the possibility of date rape, something which can never be taken mildly in today's day and age.
The first time the audiences meet Danny and Sandy, they're on the beach at the end of summer. He's shown as being a bit rough with her, trying to kiss her against her will, while she asks him not to spoil the mood. He simply ignores her at the time, saying it only makes things better. The second time around, at the drive-in, Danny seems to have not learned his lesson, he grabs her and gets on top of her, even while she's asking him to stop. Ever heard of a thing called consent, Danny? Us modern-day women definitely think not. Tsk-tsk.
Further into the movie, the sexual politics surrounding the film's characters does not really add up quite that well. Be it poor Rizzo's slut-shaming on her pregnancy scare with Kenickie, Frenchie's description of Cha Cha as the girl with the "worst reputation" at her high school, or the rival gang "Scorpions" telling Kenickie he'll give him 75 cents for his car "including your chick," the movie doesn't shy from its portrayal of women being beneath men.
Let's also hope that along with its disturbing sexual politics, the upcoming prequel also does not adopt the original movie's love for endless innuendos. Moving ahead, Paramount should be careful of not making the same mistake it did with the original 'Grease', where almost every scene, song, word and deed in the film would today result in a jail term, a lawsuit, a summary dismissal or, at the very least, a sternly worded petition.
However, one needs to also understand that all the boys in 'Grease' aren’t really misogynists; they are merely confused adolescents terrified of humiliation and desperate not to lose their friends. In short, the movie isn’t horribly sexist and offensive, it’s just that its characters say and do horrible, sexist and offensive things, a difference which not only audiences, but also filmmakers need to understand and learn from.
With the upcoming sequel to be penned down by John August, the veteran writer behind films such as 'Big Fish' and 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', fans are hoping to see a fresh perspective on the toxic high school environment that youngsters usually have to go through in their teens. But mostly, everyone is excited about finally being able to find out what exactly went down between Danny and Sandy that fateful summer night.
One Twitter user wrote, "The only thing that would be fun with a Grease prequel is the original cast making cameos, and no I don’t mean just Olivia and Travolta, I mean the actors of the Pink Ladies and Tbirds too." Another excited fan wrote, "But, you need to tell me more, tell me more, like does he have a car and also, did they get very far? Also, was it really love at first sight? I guess we do need a prequel after all - so many unanswered questions!"
However, a majority of people feel like the prequel is not really a great idea, to begin with. One user wrote, "No one asked for this," while another user jokingly said, "If Hollywood needs better ideas, I have 6 notebooks FULL of great movie ideas." A third fan of the movie wrote, "Maybe it can answer the question as to why Sandy ever tried to get in touch with Danny [once] she realized she wasn’t going back to Australia. FFS."
Now, it is just for the peeps at Paramount to make the most of all this online feedback from the movie's fans, and ensure the filmmakers come up with a better version of the original 'Grease' in its prequel, without resorting to unnecessary portrayals misogyny and sexism.