Cry-baby Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

Well I was born on the wrong side of the tracks,
In the backseat of a stolen Cadillac.
I had my first cigarette before I could walk,
And I was strumming this guitar before I could talk.
'Cuz I'm the king (King Cry-baby!)
Yeah I'm the king (King Cry-baby!)
I'm the king (King Cry-baby!)
A King Cry-baby with a tear in my eye,
And if you're with the King you're gonna cry,
Oh baby cry, oh baby cry, oh baby cry cry cry!

Called "the Pope of Trash" by William Burroughs, John Waters has had a checkered career in film, with some of the most truly tasteless and bizarre concoctions to ever grace the screen. "Pink Flamingoes", which was re-released by New Line in 1997, featured his most famous leading lady, er transvestite, the 300 pound Divine, in a shocking piece of celluloid that had, among other things, coprophagy (there's a word to look up in the dictionary!). However, in more recent years, he has mellowed out a bit, with less shock, but just the same schlock. "Cry-baby", from 1990, was one of the films from this kinder, gentler period, wedged between 1988's "Hairspray" and the uninspiring "Serial Mom" of 1994.

Imagine our shame... our only child. And he carries illegal weapons, drives fast cars, and wears clothing obviously designed by homosexuals!

In this ode to the eternal quest of reckless youth to rebel against their lame parents, Cry-baby (one of the many odd roles that Johnny Depp has played over the years) is the leader of the Cry-baby gang, an oddball collection of leather-clad white trash, referred to as "Drapes". Joining him are his pregnant sister Pepper (future talk show host Ricki Lake), blonde bad girl Wanda (ex-porn starlet Traci Lords), and a girl with a face for radio, Hatchet Face (Kim McGuire). The film opens up during a polio vaccination at a Baltimore high school in 1954. As the good-natured Allison (Kim Locane) is getting her shot, Cry-baby is dragged next to her and given a shot. For a moment, they look into each other's eyes and Cry-baby does what he does best: he releases a single tear, which runs down his cheek, and Allison is in love with him.

The prettiest and most talented girl in school, yet she socializes with Drapes.
We're Squares, Allison, and Squares have got to stick together!
Yeah, but Drapes are people too! They just look different. Maybe Cry-baby can sing, something cool... something hip...
And where did you learn those vulgar jazz words? Your dead parents would turn over in their graves.
It's those juke box records she listens to.

Allison, tired of being good all the time, catches up with Cry-baby and his gang, and attempts to start a conversation. But before anything can happen, Allison's grandmother (Polly Bergen) pulls up and Allison's semi-boyfriend, Baldwin (Stephen Mailer) pulls her into the car. You see, Allison is officially a "Square", always nicely dressed and polite. And Squares never fraternize with Drapes.

Juvenile delinquents are everywhere... right here in this community. Boys with long hair, and tattoos, who spit on the sidewalk. Girls who wear tight slacks-- hysterectomy pants I call them. And if one of these creatures ever approach you on the streets, you are to silently repeat to yourself the 4 Bs you learned here at R.S.V.P. And what are they children?
Beauty! Brains! Breeding! Bounty!

However, Cry-baby is smitten by Allison and drives up to the R.S.V.P. home for Girls to pick up Allison for a big concert at the Turkey Shoot, a redneck hangout just outside of town. Baldwin is angered and vows to exact his revenge on Cry-baby and his Drape friends. However, this isn't the only problem that these two star-crossed lovers face. Lenora, a Drape tramp, has her eyes on Cry-baby too, and schemes of a way to get in the way of Cry-baby's and Allison's happiness.

My brother wouldn't touch your titties with a ten-foot pole. He likes his women bad, not cheap!
Hi Wanda, honey.
You were on the radio!
Will you just get me the *beep* out of here?
What's *beep* mean, Hector?
Oh Maggie, it's just a teen nonsense word that Wanda uses to make herself feel all grown up.
Mrs. Monarowski, there is no smoking in the courtroom!
Why the hell not?! I pay taxes on cigarettes don't I? And what do I get for these taxes? Happiness? Hell no! I get tuberculosis!

This very tongue-in-cheek satire of those well-choreographed rock 'n roll Fifties musicals, such as "West Side Story" or "Grease" is hilarious, with scenes and dialogue deliberately scripted badly. Not only is it crass but it also has the absurd nihilism that runs rampant on "The Simpsons". And punctuated with bouncy ditties from the Fifties and comical musical numbers, it is definitely one movie you will find yourself smiling throughout. Some standout sequences include the 'talent show' at R.S.V.P. and Allison's plea for clemency at the jail where Cry-baby is making licence plates.

Oh Wanda, you sure is pretty in them tight clothes and painted up like trash!
Are the parents here?
Yes your Honor. We've been prayin' all night for our son.
Prayin' so hard we go headaches!

One feature of John Waters' later films is the inspired casting, usually with pop culture icons. "Hairspray" had Sonny Bono and Pia Zadora, and "Cry-baby", in addition to Traci Lords, features pop music icon Iggy Pop (you can see him in a dress in "Dead Man", which also starred Johnny Depp) as Cry-baby's 'uncle' and Patty Hearst (you know, the rich heiress that was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and during her captivity was brainwashed into joining her captors to rob banks) as Wanda's prim and proper but airhead mother.

God damn... lightning!
What's the matter Cry-baby?
Everything's the matter!
It's just a thunderstorm... heat lightning. It's sexy!
It's not sexy. Electricity makes me insane!
Why, Cry-baby, why?
Here's why... electricity killed my parents!
Your parents died in the electric chair?!
That's right Allison! My father was the Alphabet Bomber. He may have been crazy, but he was my Pop! The only one I ever had.
God... I heard about the Alphabet Bomber. Bombs exploding in the airport, and the barber shop...
That's right! All in alphabetical order. Car wash. Drug store. I used to lay in my cradle at night, hearing him scream in his sleep. A, B, C, D, E, F, G... boom! boom!
But your mom?
My mother tried to stop him. She couldn't even spell for Chrissakes but they fried her too!

So if you're in the mood for something different the next time you're at the video store, look to the back of the rack, and rent this quirky comedy that is one of John Waters' better works (with competition like "Pink Flamingoes" and "Serial Mom", it isn't much of an achievement!). Don't be a square!

I've never given a French kiss before.
Watch, it's easy. Just open your mouth and I open mine. We wiggle our tongues together. It feels sexy!
I won't get mononucleosis, will I?

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