Retrospective: Cry Baby - I'm So Tired of Being Good

After his successful take on the early 1960s in Hairspray, John Waters steps back in time to the 1950s in his next feature, Cry Baby. Here teenage rebels roam the streets, causing trouble throughout Baltimore - the perfect subject for a musical satire on the teensploitation genre of the past with everything from Rebel Without A Cause to Grease serving as inspiration. Like Hairspray the film was adapted into a reasonably successful musical, however was a box office failure at the time - only regaining $8m of it's $12m budget. However, the film has since become a cult classic, despite it's departure from Waters' usual subject matter and style.

Cry Baby follows trouble-making, teenage gang, The Drapes lead by bad boy, Cry Baby (Johnny Depp). When Cry Baby falls for good-girl, Allison Vernon Williams (Amy Locane) a battle ensues between the drapes and the squares.    

The casting of Johnny Depp in the lead role is a one of Waters' best choices. Depp, wanted to dispel the typecast TV teen idol image he was developing so what better than to accept a role in which this is satirized. Depp is utterly convincing in the part, bringing a raw sexiness and style, perfect for a film in which teenage angst plays a huge part. The young heartthrob is joined by Hairspray star Ricki Lake and former porn star, Traci Lords - the latter a wonderful choice for echoing these themes of teenage lust.

Cry Baby is foremost a satire of teenage life and problems, whilst also acting as a playful poke at the conservative values of the era. This is mostly reflected through drapes vs. squares dynamic of the film and the concept of conforming vs rebellion - this being a Waters film and us being Waters fan we are obviously all on the side of the rebels. Whilst the narrative is a somewhat basic one (teen rebel fights for sweet girl next door) one would expect a vast array of successful gags and musical numbers to hold the film together. Whether this is delivered is questionable.

Most of the musical numbers are enjoyable at the time, but in the long run, hugely forgettable - the only exception being the fun and over the top, Please Mr. Jailer. The humour does not feel overly consistent either, there are rare glimpses of the eccentric Waters that we love but these have been sacrificed for the more mainstream angle the film takes. The occasional standout scene features Traci Lord's characters encounter with a Swedish exchange student or Willem Dafoe's cameo as a camp prison guard.

Alongside Depp the clear standout is Polly Bergen, Bergen stars as Allison's grandmother, one of the strongest elements of Cry Baby. The character slowly transforms from the matriarch of the squares to one of the drapes biggest fans. On the opposite spectrum we have the older rebel Iggy Pop who features in the smaller role of Cry Baby's uncle.

Cry Baby is a mixed affair, on one hand it's a fairly successful satire of the 1950s teenspoitation genre with  wonderful underlying themes of unrest, angst and eventually freedom. Depp brings a smoothness to the role of Cry Baby but unfortunately the humour and music are not consistently enjoyable enough for this to be anything more than 'quite good'. Waters' would eventually return to his trashy routes in his next feature, Serial Mom.

Next: Serial Mom
Previous: Hairspray

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