Genre: Musical, Comedy, Romance
Director/Writer: John Waters
Music: Patrick Williams
Cinematography: David Insley
Darren E. Burrows
Cult wizard John Waters’ first major studio film at the heels of the moderate success of HAIRSPRAY (1988), CRY-BABY is Johnny Depp’s springboard from small screen to silver screen in his salad days.
It is 1954 in Baltimore, Wade Walker, aka, Cry-Baby (Depp) is the leader of the “drapes” gang, a group of delinquents including the core five, Cry-Baby, his litter sister Pepper (Lake), a chubby teenage mother of two and expecting a third, “bad girl” Wanda (the pornography actress Lords), the facially disfigured Gothic-looking Hatchet Face (McGuire) and her boyfriend Milton (Burrows). They form a band and Cry-Baby is the leader singer, aping Elvis Presley with the uproarious rockabilly panache.
Pigeonholed in the rebel teen sub-genre, it is a standard bad-boy-good-girl-meet-cute fairytale, Cry-Baby brazenly asks out a “square” girl, Allison Vernon-Williams (Locane) from the Doo-wop pervaded, orthodox talent show presided by Allison’s prudish grandmother (Bergen), and brings her to the Turkish Point, the venue of Drapes’ gatherings, run by Cry-Baby’s grandmother Ramona (a no-holds-barred Tyrrell, ravishes in French-kissing Iggy Pop and her outré garment, scantly 18-year senior to Depp, at the age of 45, it is plain ageism to place her in the grotesque grandma role).
Cry-Baby’s provocative action enrages Allison’s current square boyfriend Baldwin (Mailer), who marshals a clutch of squares raid the Turkish Point, and a scuffle ensues, which leads to Cry-Baby’s imprisonment. After a procession of dashing musical numbers (even the dance-shy Depp shows off his not-so-dazzling routines in the penitentiary) and knockabout adventures, Cry-Baby and Baldwin settles a score in a puerile chicken-race. But the penetrating playfulness retains without sagging until Cry-Baby’s trademark single teardrop singularly materializes in the countenances of all and sundry in the finale.
In all fairness, CRY-BABY is engaging in the characterization of the eccentric group’s rebellious spirit and the contrast between their unconventional looks and wholesome communal affinities, as a musical, the set pieces can still manage to bring down the house for nostalgic spectators. But it is also undeniable that the acting is camp to the hilt (but the late Tyrrell and Bergen are getting my sympathy votes), a feebly tangible, largely implausible narrative doesn’t go anywhere other than off-hand caricature and shallow braggadocio, only Depp holds out by imprinting his personal charisma onto his green but heart-throbbing teen idol image, at the age of 27, he was paving his way to be the most maverick and audacious A-list actor in the 90s on USA soil before eventually bowing to the recruitment from Disney, and being tiresomely tapped as Jack Sparrow, a one-trick-pony who has spawned a lucrative but ebbing franchise.