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Cry-Baby (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on June 18, 2014

I could cry a single tear over the fact that revisiting this film was not nearly as successful as Hairspray or Desperate Living.  Out of my John Waters rewatches, it’s the one that had the longest gap between viewings.  I hadn’t seen it in over 20 years, and even though my memories of it weren’t very fond, I had a lot of hope that it would be improve with a second look.  But sadly, I still feel pretty ho-hum about it.  Coming on the heels of Hairspray, it can’t help paling in comparison.  And the comparison seems fair.  It’s another period musical about teenagers.  While I wouldn’t call it an attempt to cash in by rehashing a successful formula, it does feel like the previous movie’s baby brother.

Where this film succeeds is as a send-up of the overwrought teen melodrama of the 1950’s.  Characters readily declare themselves as “Squares” or “Drapes” (the term used for a delinquent, for reasons I couldn’t figure out), content to box themselves into their stereotyped roles.  Ridiculous (and hilarious) lines like “Let’s all put on a folk hat and learn something about a foreign culture!” are delivered with the utmost sincerity, and everyone is thrilled to play their over-the-top parts in this farce about “juvenile delinquents”.  The supporting cast is a delight, with players like Iggy Pop, Ricki Lake, Susan Tyrrell (who I hated in Fat City, but her often grating persona is an asset here), Traci Lords, Polly Bergen, Kim Webb, Patti Hearst, Troy Donahue, Mink Stole and Joe Dallesando all giving it their all.  Most exciting is Kim McGuire, who plays “Hatchet Face” with adorable gusto and abandon.

But the movie just isn’t that endearing as a whole.  The songs — originals and period tunes alike — are mostly pretty good, but it isn’t as strong a soundtrack as Hairspray.  Likewise, the few dance numbers are pulled off well, but not especially inspired.  The real problem, however, is that the movie isn’t lovable enough.  Depp puts some decent work into Cry-Baby, but he’s not a hero who you feel much like rooting for.  More problematic is Amy Locane as Allison.  When she so readily swallows Lenora’s story and goes running back to the Squares, I turned against her.  I no longer had any investment in the central romance.  There wasn’t enough joy in the film to carry the audience through.

There are other issues too.  I found the “Drape” hybrid of greaser and redneck to be puzzling.  No matter how much irony is involved, the Confederate flag is always going to be a sign of uncool to me.  And some of the gags are kinda dumb, for example the cow that runs away when it sees Hatchet Face.  It’s definitely not a total loss.  There are some really good bits in the movie, stuff that’s genuinely funny and entertaining.  A lot of the dialogue is golden.  But overall the film feels like a fumble for Waters, perhaps knocked a little off his game after the success of Hairspray.  I’d actually really like to watch this with his commentary.  And there’s a “director’s cut” as well, maybe that plays a little better.  Rating: Fair (66)


2 Responses to “Cry-Baby (rewatch)”

  1. Dan Heaton said

    I saw this originally at age 14 when a friend randomly wanted to see it in the theater. I don’t think I was ready for John Waters at 14, even in this fairly sanitized version. I haven’t seen it since, so I wonder how it would be today. I have a feeling it would be a mixed experience like yours.

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