Movie Review: Cry-Baby

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Teen singer and bad boy Cry-Baby falls in love with a good girl, but the other squares won’t let them be together.

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John Waters, 1990

Set in the 50s, Cry-Baby tells the tale of two opposing groups, the poor white trash “Drapes” and the rich upper-class “Squares”. Drape Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Johnny Depp) lives with his grandmother and his boyfriend, and his sister Pepper (Ricki Lake) is pregnant with her third child. One day at school while getting immunised, Cry-Baby meets Allison (Amy Locane), a wide-eyed Square with an angelic voice who wants to be bad. When she chooses to sing with Cry-Baby at a Drape party, the Squares are offended, particularly Allison’s boyfriend Milton (Darren E Burrows). The Squares attack the party, and Allison must decide where her loyalties lie while singing her feelings out.

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Cry-Baby is a social satire and pastiche of 50s films and societal constructs. John Waters has always had a particular talent for celebrating the subversive, but this film is more beguiling than some of his other efforts, more akin to something like Hairspray than Pink Flamingos. The movie’s genuinely eclectic cast includes Johnny Depp, rock star Iggy Pop, former porn star Traci Lords, infamous kidnapping victim Patty Hearst, and hippie Susan Tyrrell, who work together to create a unique film. Depp channels the kind of soulful, tortured role that made him a star in the early 90s, winning teenage girls’ hearts as the Elvis-like bad boy, while Amy Locane is alternately sweet and seductive as the conflicted Allison.

I found this movie unexpectedly delightful. It skewers concepts of class superiority, with the upper-class Squares proving to be judgmental and violent while the lower-class Drapes are inclusive and accepting. The concept of rebellious teenagers is also sent up, showing the parents of the teen hoodlums as a variety of oddballs – hardcore Christians, seemingly supportive squares, and neglectful deadbeats – while the teenagers are full of raw energy that needs to be channeled. Hatchet Face is a particular delight (“It’s a shame about your face.” “There’s nothing wrong with my face! I got character!”), but the characters are fun, larger-than-life without being unrelateable. It’s distracting that Depp and Amy Locane don’t do their own singing, but some of the songs are terrific, particularly the bluesy Please Mr. Jailer. The 50s costumes and imitation music are great, stopping just short of being parodies. The film is campy in the extreme, but it’s a lot of fun.

Cry-Baby on IMDb

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