In 1971, the musical Fat written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey stormed Broadway. The 50s nostalgia was just taking off and Fat certainly capitalized on that. The story is about the senior year of 1959 at Rydell High. A new transfer student from Australia and a stereotypical good girl, Sandy, has fallen in love with the leader of tough street gang the T-Birds, Danny. How the hell could they ever make it work? A movie followed in 1978 and became one of the greatest musicals of all time. With the star power of John Travolta like Danny and Olivia Newton John like Sandy, it wasn’t a big surprise.
The hit spawned a sequel in 1982 and now that the 40th anniversary is approaching, it’s time to celebrate Fat 2. Fat 2 wasn’t exactly the shot that Fat was (okay, it was a colossal box office failure), but there was no way it would live up to the popularity that Fat had. Fat is an iconic musical that has rightfully earned its place in musical theater history. However… is it a better movie? The answer is no. That’s right, Fat 2 is better. This is why this is the hill I choose to die on.
The cast of Fat 2 may have some big names in hindsight, but at the time they were relatively unknown. The biggest names back then were 60s idols, Tab hunter and Connie Stevens as well as a few appearances from the 1978 film (although Didi Conn mysteriously disappears mid-run.) It certainly didn’t help the box office numbers, even though it was the first major role for many actors’ careers. Some of their careers have become famous like Michelle Pfeiffer and Pamela Adlon (Billed as Pamela Segall) and some didn’t. Either way, it’s incredibly fun to watch raw new talent before fame seeps into their careers.
It’s hardly surprising that Pfeiffer shines above everyone else with what we know now. But there are a bunch of performances that are impressive besides his. Lorna Luft (Judy Garland‘s other girl) like Paulette who may seem like a blonde bombshell, but the one who wouldn’t stand up for nobody’s shit was a revelation in 1982. And let’s not forget the twins Liz and John Sagal (the little sisters of Katey Sagal) who became the infamous Doublemint Twins as well as the star of their own sitcom, Double Trouble. A group of memorable actors who, even though they were still too old to be believable as high schoolers, still passed off as friends.
Fat had the advantage of having the hit Broadway musical as its source, so there was a contingent of fans who were going to show up no matter what. There were no results in Fat 2 which topped the Billboard charts, but there are some great songs. Composer Louis Saint Louis wrote all the original music. Give the soundtrack another listen on your favorite streaming service.
“Reproduction” is a pure and simple banger. Led by Tab Hunter as substitute teacher, it’s a clever (if not quite obvious) song filled with double meanings about the process of breeding flowers and animals and yet somehow exploring the concept of consent. And the group’s big number “Score Tonight” (another filled with understatements) is fun with an infectious hook. I also challenge you to try and get “Girl For All Seasons” out of your head once you’ve watched the movie. Believe me, it will never go away. And when it comes to the “I want” songs, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” doesn’t even hold a candle to “Cool Rider.” Pfeiffer should be commended for her scale work alone, but talk about a female anthem for the ages. If you don’t sing and do her choreography at the end while she states the title of the song, what are you even doing?
The T-Birds and the Pink Ladies
The T-Birds from the first movie are really intense. The birds in Fat 2 are hilariously uncool. They have the jackets, they have the girlfriends, but they are NOT cool. And it works! Sure, they’re a little too laid back about the murder when they think they accidentally caused the death of the mysterious motorcyclist, but it all works out. Isn’t that all that matters? They even use the tutoring (cheating agreement) services of Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) and Johnny is kind enough to give some advice on the bike. T-Birds don’t take themselves seriously, which makes them a whole lot more fun.
Conversely, the Pink Ladies seemed to be exactly what Rizzo (Stockard Channing) envisioned in the first film. Stephanie seems less interested in adhering to feminine norms as she repeatedly wants to wear pants, clearly a big social no-no for 1961. The defining moment of Fat This is when Sandy appears in pants at the very end of the movie. A gesture that Stephanie makes in the first ten minutes. She also has no interest in continuing her relationship with Johnny (Adrien Zmed) simply because they are “meant to be together”. She wants something different. (She wants a date that’s cool!) And when Johnny moves on to Paulette, Paulette is going to make him work for it and make her a priority and not just arm candy. This is the future of female empowerment that would soon come.
No one changes who they are to be with someone. Stephanie fantasizes about a cool rider, of course, and when Michael hears this, he decides to learn to ride a motorcycle. Does he change who he is or just broaden his horizons? Because when Stephanie and the rest of the school find out that Michael is the mystery guy, she’s thrilled because she had already fallen in love with Michael. So now she has it all in one. She didn’t change, and he learned new skills on top of his mediocre piano skills and writing prowess. The T-Birds already love it. Although they’re (inexplicably) stunned that it’s him, they’re thrilled to have a new friend to add to their group. And Stephanie and Michael are a real power couple that doesn’t get blown away by the end. They did this in the middle of the film, as it should be! Overall, it sends much better messages, including being yourself, taking control of your own life, and reversing gender roles through female empowerment that was quite ahead of its time in 1982.
Fat will go down in history as one of the most popular musicals of all time. But try this one again with fresh eyes. Leave your expectations and preconceptions behind and stand up for him for what he was trying to do. Is it perfect? Not far from here. But it was too harshly criticized for not being an exact replica of its source material. It’s its own thing and it should be celebrated. He never takes himself too seriously, and he shamelessly knows exactly what he is. So now that a little time and distance has passed, give Fat 2 another blow.
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