Movies We Like
If I had to sum up Cry-Baby in a sentence for someone, I would say that it is the wet dream of John Waters. Not since Kenneth Anger has there ever been someone who plays on the homoeroticism of hairless leather-daddies and rockabilly culture with such style. The movie also has what I would consider to be a dream cast for Waters, with Johnny Depp leading the pack. There's also his late muse, Ricki Lake, and small performances by Iggy Pop, Mink Stole, Joe Dallesandro, and a cameo by Willem Dafoe. To boot, the soundtrack is also outrageously good, featuring some of my favorite doo-wop, rockabilly, and psychobilly songs.
To compare this gem with other greaser vs. socs movies would be placing an emphasis on the more typical parts of the story; a nice town in 1950s suburbia is split in two, with its elite on one side and the trailer-trash on the other. But you have to remember that this is not The Outsiders or Grease, nor a jailhouse/Elvis flick. In fact, it's a parody of such movies. Waters takes the road-rebel genre and turns it into an opportunity to direct an over-the-top musical about teenagers and star-crossed love. The result is a story about a young man named Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Johnny Depp), a juvenile delinquent who prides himself on the ability to shed a single tear when confronted by his emotions. Behind him, sporting leather jackets with his name on the back, is his gang, referred to by the town as “drapes.” Perhaps the name comes from the emotional curtain of hair that keeps half of their faces in shadow. There's his plump and pregnant sister, Pepper (Ricki Lake); the fiery Wanda (Traci Lords); and the oddest couple to ever hit the screen, Milton (Darren E. Burrows) and his gal, Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire). Their rivals on the playground are the suburban “squares,” and like other movies with the same theme, these characters are given little screen time and are presented as the enemy. The starlet among them is Allison (Amy Locane), a blonde who's seen as the most talented and beautiful among the rich. Allison and Cry-Baby lock eyes while getting a polio shot in the gymnasium. The sight of her makes him shed a tear, and the rest is history.
Diving into a series of music numbers, we see young Allison squandering her good name by socializing with the drapes and making an effort to see Cry-Baby sing in a dump that his relatives (Susan Tyrrell and Iggy Pop) own. The typical fights and pranks occur between the two rivaling groups until things get out of hand and young Cry-Baby gets locked up. The ridiculous music numbers continue behind bars, with pretty-boys and black men who look like Little Richard chiming in during assembly lines and lights-out. There's a ton of french kissing and groping, and even your classic chicken-fight.
Now don't get me wrong, rockabilly music and clothing is fun, catchy, etc. However, one cannot ignore the suggestiveness of some of these dudes and their behavior. That being said, Waters takes those mannerisms and exploits them to the point of almost being a smut film, minus the skin. You should tally how many times Johnny Depp licks something, including close-ups where he wipes a tear from his eye and then suggestively licks it off his finger. Not to mention a point in the plot where he is trying to escape from jail and somehow ends up in his tighty-whities. Of course, not all of the comedy is for the benefit of gay men and Johnny Depp fans. Each scene and character is carefully put together and blown out of proportion in a way that is intentional. My favorite among the characters is Hatchet-Face, who looks like the little girl from The Exorcist when she's in full demon-mode and has bleach-blonde locks.
Another awesome thing about the movie is the dialogue. The witticism is, without a doubt, the best to come out of the '90s. Waters also took his precious time making fun of Baltimore and American politics, including a scene where Allison's grandmother makes an audience of snobs repeat their “4 B's” of virtue: “Beauty. Brains. Breeding. Bounty!” The editing was classy and helped each outrageous scene transition to the next one with style. Cry-Baby seriously made me want to dance out in the street, key my snooty neighbor's car, and punch a socialite in the face. Highly Recommended.