Paramount’s Grease prequel Summer Lovin’ is an unholy project. You know it. I know it. I think we all know it. Except, of course, for a handful of executives at Paramount Pictures, the studio that has been selling itself to Netflix one movie at a time over the last few months.
Paramount is pressing forward on the ill-advised project, tapping Hearts Beat Loud helmer Brett Haley to direct from a script by Leah McKendrick. Haley is actually a strong hire for a movie like this, as he has actual chops and can generate real emotion onscreen. He also seems to be an actor’s director, having directed Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott and Nick Offerman to acclaimed performances in the small indie films I’ll See You in My Dreams, The Hero and Hearts Beat Loud, respectively. It’s kind of funny how he started out directing films for older audiences, and yet Summer Lovin’ will be his third-straight YA movie following Netflix’s All the Bright Places and the streamer’s upcoming Sorta Like a Rock Star.
Randal Kleiser directed 1978’s Grease, which become a phenomenon not just because of its catchy bops, but because of the chemistry between stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. They played bad boy Danny and good girl Sandy, a couple of young lovebirds from opposite sides of the tracks who, after sharing a summer fling, discover they go to the same high school.
Summer Lovin’ will explore the events in the song “Summer Nights,” including Danny and Sandy’s first meeting, as well as the steamy summer that followed. Deadline’s Justin Kroll broke the news in his first scoop for the site, reporting that Paramount is high on the project because executives think it could launch a franchise. I’ve written that sentence myself dozens of times, and trust me, any time the “f-word” is used before casting has started, it’s a bad omen. The fact is, John Travolta is a Movie Star, and those types of guys don’t just grow on trees. If only Paramount would pay to de-age Travolta a la Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.
You know what else doesn’t grow on trees? Hit songs! Grease is iconic not just because of its two leads, but because of its memorable music. Those hits will be hard to replicate, even with the help of the director of Heart Beats Loud, which had some tasty tunes itself. Grease was based on the 1971 musical of the same name from Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, and in 2016 it was performed live on Fox, proving popular with TV audiences. But no one goes around singing songs from the 1982 sequel Grease 2, and that’s because greased lightnin’ rarely strikes twice.
Temple Hill and Picturestart are producing the prequel, and Haley just worked with the former company on Sorta Like a Rock Star. As you can tell, I’m extremely skeptical about this one, but at least Paramount has found the right man for the job in Haley. Those curious about his background can click here to watch the Hearts Beat Loud trailer in case you missed that film, and click here for our interview with the director out of Sundance.