Michelle Pfeiffer in 'Grease 2'

Breaking Down “Cool Rider” on the 41st Anniversary of ‘Grease 2’ — The Flop That Cemented Michelle Pfeiffer’s Star Power

Remembering Michelle Pfeiffer in ‘Grease 2.’ You may bow down.

Grease 2 may be an uninspired replica of its far-superior predecessor — taking Danny and Sandy and swapping them out for a leather-clad Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a cardigan-adorned Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) — but Pfeiffer’s performance remains a celebrated slice of cinema. She brings a contagious electricity to a character who could have easily fallen victim to the film’s otherwise magicless aura. 

Most of the other characters in Grease 2 are either two-dimensional or inconsistent, making for a film that boasts nothing more than Broadway-akin dance routines (where rock and roll badassery should permeate) and lyrics about sex, sex, and sex. Yes, Grease has its fair share of sexual innuendos and clever double entendres, but at the end of the day, the film is about so much more; it is about navigating youth and identity, finding your place amid rigid social structures, falling in love, and learning to express your individuality. And, most importantly, it carries vital moments of empowerment. 

Rizzo’s hit number “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” remains one of Grease’s most celebrated songs, as she laments about the reputation she has garnered while owning her identity as both a tough girl and a vulnerable one. She is empowered. She is wounded but not broken. She is a feminist, and a liberated one at that, in a time when one’s sexual repression connoted a superior moral fortitude. And, while Grease 2 lacks a punch in the meaningful messages department, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Stephanie does all in her power to instill the film with some bite and value. So, on the 41st anniversary of Grease 2, which premiered on July 11, 1982, let’s look back on the spectacular Stephanie. 

Stephanie is self-assured and unafraid to express herself — as well as what she desires out of life. She is ambitious and determined to pursue a future beyond high school. She challenges the status quo. And, no moment from Grease 2 showcases her character’s distinction better than her performance of “Cool Rider,” which boasts over 11 million plays on Spotify (despite the fact that the rest of the album’s tunes sit around 1-2 million plays). From the sex appeal to the wide-eyed wonder she displays at the thought of her perfect man, it’s scrumptious and significant.

Michelle Pfeiffer Grease 2
Michelle Pfeiffer in ‘Grease 2’ via MovieClips

This number should have been exclusively corny. With lyrics like “I’m looking for a dream on a mean machine with hell in his eyes,” the words are not exactly dripping with dignity. Yet, Pfeiffer opens this number with an expression indicative of reflection. She brings the cool to the otherwise campy. She is singing to Michael about what she yearns for in a man, but she’s really reiterating her own convictions back to herself. It’s that piercing gaze and the slight jerks of her head that suggest the slightest degree of unsureness before she comes into a place of utter certainty. It’s not about Michael. It’s about her. Initially, her eyes are focused on him — until they dart away with no target. She enters her vision — where his presence is not significant. Thus, it should come as no surprise that he’s gone for most of the song, as she continues to assert her needs. 

Her eyes widen at the thought of her “cool rider.” Her expression is indicative of excitement and anticipation. Even when she looks back at Michael, it’s as if she’s looking past him or through him. 

Stephanie runs off and winds up standing with her back to a wall and a cardboard stage prop in her hands — in a moment no doubt intentionally reminiscent of Rizzo performing “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Rizzo, her back to the wall, holds her books and lifts her chin as she belts the line “I could stay home every night. Wait around for Mr. Right.” It’s the part of the tune that begins to underscore Rizzo’s liberated mentality and her socially-unaccepted condemnation of the status quo. 

Michelle Pfeiffer Grease 2
Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2 via MovieClips

Similarly, Stephanie sings “That’s the way it’s gonna be, and that’s the way that I feel,” as she, likewise, enters into full ownership of who she is and what she yearns for. Her chin goes from a downward slant to a slight upward tilt — in a shift that washes away any sense of doubt, bringing about a side smirk and a jutting hip walk to emphasize pride. And who could forget the way she climbs that ladder — slow and steady, shoulders rocking to the beat? And, when she reaches the top, she slowly swings one leg over to sit atop the ladder (literally and metaphorically) where she belongs. (Sexual awakening, anyone?) 

It’s sexy. It’s aspirational. It’s dreams meet determination. And as she descends the ladder, leaving one arm to rest on one of the rings, she approaches the end of the number with swagger and a more relaxed conviction. She dances her way through the school, legs moving like Elvis Presley, hair whipping around like an ‘80s rock star, arms jiving with reckless abandon. It’s uplifting. It’s inspiring. Her energy is contagious. The man who dreams of her stares on with desire, but does she even know he’s back there? Does it even matter? 

While Michelle Pfeiffer would go on to star in Scarface the following year, providing her with a bit more kudos in Tinseltown, Grease 2 rightfully remains her star-making turn. She created a cult-favorite character out of crumbs. With an intoxicating performance — nuanced and nimble —  she became the unstoppable Stephanie. 

About the author

Josh Lezmi

Josh is an entertainment writer and editor at Thought Catalog.