by Carolyn Kellogg
One of the lesser Pink Ladies at Rydell High, Frenchy is best known for her "little trouble in tinting class." How Frenchy was originally accepted by the cool chicks is never explained. She's not stacked like Marti or tough and experienced like Rizzo. She becomes friends with wide-eyed Sandy even after Rizzo dubs the newcomer "too pure to be Pink." Her beautician skills don't make the grade with even the fashion dilettante Pink Ladies. And most important in the girl-gets-boy world of GREASE, Frenchy all but fails at securing a man. By the time the T-Birds and Pink Ladies are paired up, Frenchy's date is posing with a bewildering dog puppet. Frenchy lingers on the sidelines, alone.
Fairness dictates that people be judged in the context of their time: each culture carries prejudices, so slave-owning Thomas Jefferson isn't called a racist, and then-drug-addled Cher has been excused for marrying Sonny Bono. By sock-hop standards, Frenchywith her funny voice, pink hair, and no boyfriendis no more than a wacky loser.
However, she does serve a purpose: she's Sandy's passport to delinquency. She introduces her to the Pink Ladies, who make sure she re-encounters Danny Zuko. When Zuko is standoffish and just too damn cool for Sandy, Frenchy invites her to the Pink Ladies' sleepover as consolation. Here Sandy learns the ways of wanton women: she puffs a cigarette and swills dessert wine. Sandy appeals to Frenchy to help transform her into the spandex-clad, Candies-shod vixen who captures Danny Zuko's heart. Frenchy makes the plot go.
Being structurally important doesn't get Frenchy much respect inside the movie or out. Nor does being a friend to Sandy, who barely shows any appreciation, or to Rizzo, who's snide in return. She's paired with a T-Bird who wants to get a hickey from Kenicke as badly as Rizzo does, making the boyfriend thing impossible. Seventies movie critics bemoan Frenchy's lame career choice, portraying Beauty School as a drastic error (what, and impede her meteoric rise in the steno pool?), and her future is barely saved by returning to Rydell High. She just can't win.
But maybe she can. As Elvis taught us, if you've got a song and a really sparkly outfit, you can be King. In musicals a character is judged by the coolness of their solo number, and Frenchy's is the shiniest. Outglitzing the boys dancing around on their fantasy car, "Beauty School Dropout" is a pint-sized 1970s Busby Berkeley ripoff. Frankie Avalon serenades Frenchy as silvery angels with aluminum curler ringlet bouffants dip and spin. Somebody up there must have a soft spot for her.
The original production of Grease was staged in a barn outside of Chicago in 1972. Perhaps in that original four-hour extravaganza, Frenchy's striving to achieve her beautician dream was iconoclastic, not moronic; maybe her pink hair was seen as funky, not foolish; maybe she looked around at the shackles of her peer group and thought, Y'know, these guys are all going to be living in a trailer park with gummy-faced children, wife-swapping and saggy, and I'm better off without 'em.
That's how I like to see her. A dreamer, a doer, and a fashion pioneer, Frenchy rules. Traditional bitchin' babe Rizzo is, actually, a bitch. Imagine hanging out with her: she'd tear you to shreds. You cool enough for Rizzo? Then picture an afternoon with Sandy, who would bore you with Aussie tales for hours, then wander away mid-sentence to croon at imaginary reflections of Danny Zuko in a kiddie pool. Or, if you could relate to Sandy's treasured chastity, do you think she'd stick around to giggle about how to breathe while kissing after that first night she squeezed out of the spandex for Danny? Frenchy managed to be friends with all of them, and she'll do anything she can to help you.
Remember, without Frenchy, Sandy could never have become a slut. GREASE sets up the Sandy-Rizzo virtue-versus-hard-boiled-sexuality juxtaposition, then shows there's only one real choice. Be forever a frigid, lonely virgin, or dump your ideals and climb down drainpipes to get steamy in a parked car. The virgin-turned-slattern wins John Travolta. Easy lesson.
Frenchy is the way out. A sweet, authentic bad girl, she's ambitious, determined, and true to herself all along despite social pressures. Meanwhile, to get her man, Sandy casts off her personality like a pair of soiled panties. I'm certain Frenchy would be cool to hang out with now, because she took just enough shit from her friends to develop a well-rounded punk-rock sensibility after high school. And hey, she got a head start with that pink hair. </end>