Cry-Baby (1990) Reviewed

CRY-BABY (1990)
Considering all the elements working in its favor it’s a shame Cry-Baby, John Waters’ 1990 ode to 50s rockabilly juvie flicks, doesn’t reach the giddy heights of Hairspray (1988) – itself a similarly affectionate love-letter to teased-hair, early 60s, dance rock kitsch. All the elements are in place: the casting of notorious cultural outsiders like Iggy Pop, Susan Tyrrell, Patty Hearst, and Traci Lords; the impeccable soundtrack of rare 50s jukebox rarities, and the low-brow shock jokes Waters is famous for (even if said jokes became decidedly more homogenized in his post-Polyester psuedo-mainstream output of the 80s and 90s). And talk about star power; Johnny Depp took a bold chance by starring in this broad musical comedy when he was still best known for 21 Jumpstreet

Depp (center) as Cry-Baby Walker and his gang of "drapes."

Here he’s Cry-Baby Walker – a motorcycle riding “drape” (a somewhat obscure slang synonym for “greaser”) with a heart of gold despite his wild roots, and trouble with the law. The story centers around his romance with good-girl (“square” is the flipside to “drape” in the Cry-Baby lexicon), Allison (Amy Locane), who dumps her asshole right-side-of-the-tracks boyfriend when the lawless, single-tear-shedding bad boy anoints her with the appeals of being bad. Cry-Baby is undoubtedly a joyous ride, and everyone involved seems to be having a ball, but the sum of all of its wonderfully junky parts is ultimately forgettable because the narrative, ripped right from inspirations like High School Caesar and Jailhouse Rock, don’t do much to improve upon the one-note structure of the B movie non-classics it hopes to emulate.

Depp apes some authentic rockabilly moves in "Cry-Baby's" central number.

By comparison Hairspray (and even Serial Mom and Pecker) had more interesting things going on — you know; social commentary and stuff — that allowed them to linger in your imagination long after watching them. That said, Cry-Baby is definitely worth a look to Waters fans, B movie fans, Johnny Depp fans, and fans of good, dirty, uncompromising 50s rock and roll. Hairspray alum, Rickie Lake, plays Cry-Baby’s perpetually knocked-up teen sister, Pepper. (“She may be pregnant, but she fights like a man.”) Kim McGuire makes an impression as the aptly-named Hatchet-Face, who looks like she could be the spiritual goddaughter of the late Edith “Egg Lady” Massey.

The appropriately-named Hatchet-Face.

Three of the original soundtrack songs written for the movie were recorded by The Cramps (!) FOR the Cry-Baby soundtrack. After a little web research, I’m still not sure why they weren’t used or what Waters’ original intent was for them. (In the movie, Depp and Locane’s musical numbers are dubbed by professional singers to mixed effect.) The Cramps tracks eventually ended up on the band’s EP All Women Are Bad. In addition to the songs written for the movie, the soundtrack includes amazing tunes like “Gee!” by the Crows, “Nosey Joe” by Bull Moose Jackson, and “Cherry” by the Jive Bombers. Like Hairspray before it, Cry-Baby was adapted as a stage musical, but it never caught on or enjoyed the success of the other Waters Broadway juggernaut. 
** 1/2

Susan Tyrrell and Iggy Pop suck face as Cry-Baby's rockabilly grandparents.

 

~ by Number5ive on June 29, 2010.

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