“No, she's a scrape - part square, part drape. I think she's pretty.”
Johnny Depp was on his way to becoming typecast as a teen idol when in 1990 he was given the opportunity to play two odd roles. One was his first collaboration with Tim Burton in Edward Scissorhands which remains one of his most iconic characters to date, and the other an often forgotten and overlooked musical comedy directed by the eccentric John Waters. This was my introduction to his particular brand of filmmaking and I had a fun time with it. Clocking in at under 75 minutes the film knows when the humor is running out of steam and manages to end before the novelty begins to wear down. The movie is a parody of 50’s teen rebel films and it spoofs musicals like Grease. The only thing I knew about Waters before going into this film was the remake I had seen of his original musical, Hairspray. I now can see why he has a cult following since his style isn’t conventional and the experience is a unique one. It’s Johnny Depp who carries the film with his charm and good looks making fun of our conception of the cool rebel character, which in a way is the way audiences conceive the actor in real life. The characters in this film seem to be having so much fun that the ridiculous and over the top parody is simply contagious. It’s so energetic and playful that it’s hard not to watch it with a smile on your face.
Johnny Depp plays the titular character, Cry-Baby, who is called that because of his capability of shedding a single tear from his left eye that drives the girls crazy. He’s a bad boy who loves fast paced cars and hangs around the cool group known as the Drapes. The sweet girl in his school who falls for him is Allison Vernon (Amy Locane). She’s a square because she belongs to the traditional side of town who are very much against the drape lifestyle and culture. Allison is tired of being the good girl and she eventually wins Cry-Baby’s heart who introduces her to his circle of friends: Wanda (Traci Lords), Pepper (Ricki Lake) who already has two children and is pregnant with the third, Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire) and her boyfriend Milton (Darren E. Burrows). Even though Cry-Baby is part of the drape culture he is more polite than the rest of his gang and eventually they all accept Allison as one of their own. Her boyfriend, Baldwin (Stephen Mailer), however isn’t too happy that Allison is hanging out with these bad boys and decides to give them a lesson. Meanwhile, one of Cry-Baby’s many admirers is Lenora (Kim Webb), who isn’t happy Allison is hanging around the man she loves, and she too will do what it takes to keep them apart even if it means making up a story that she’s pregnant with his baby.
The musical is very energetic and a lot of fun. There are several memorable scenes including a jailbreak attempt that is hilarious. Locane and Depp have irresistible charm together and they seem to have had a fun time working together with this offbeat comedy written by Waters himself. There are also some catchy songs with decent choreography including Doin’ Time For Bein’ Young, Please, Mr. Jailer, and Teardrops Are Falling. The 50’s soundtrack is just so much fun and enhances the musical’s energy even more. John Waters also included a hilarious orphanage scene where the children were displayed like animals in a zoo. The character of Hatchet Face probably evoked the most laughs with her crazy look and there’s a hilarious scene in which she pops out of a movie screen while the prisoners were watching a 3D horror movie and they all jumped out of their seats horrified by her look. There is also a cameo from Willem Dafoe as a prison guard that evoked some chuckles as well. The predictable premise of the film could’ve turned this into a familiar bore, but Waters knows how to come up with innovative and fresh ideas with his unique brand of humor.