"You have made me the happiest juvenile delinquent in the world" - Wade 'Cry-Baby' Walker
There are certain foods that are an acquired taste, initially, a person may not find them appealing, and in fact they may even taste strange. After a few times your taste comes to appreciate the new food and you are hooked. The same goes for the films of certain directors; John Waters is definitively an acquired taste. His films are not what many would describe as run of the mill or even sane. Cry Baby represented his one of the first big budget flick after a run of cult classics, and like his previous films is a wild ride into a bizarre world of Water’s creation. The film takes place, as do all John Water’s films in the city of Baltimore, the year is 1954, the very dawn of rock and roll. For teenagers society is firmly delineated into three groups, the drapes, slicked back hair, leather jackets and rebellious attitude, squares with their crew cuts and sweaters and the nerds, always clutching their slide rules. Wade 'Cry-Baby' Walker (Johnny Depp) is the prince of the drapes, with a single tear always ready to run from his eye his an angst filled rebel lost to romance. He is also the object of a crush held by square princess Allison (Amy Locane), rich, beautiful and the grand daughter of the headmistress of the local charm school, Mrs. Vernon-Williams (Polly Bergen). Normally, a square would never consider a drape romantically but Allison is under the double influence of teenage hormones and the devil’s music, rock and roll. Cry Baby is constantly surrounded by his entourage including his pregnant sister Pepper (Riki Lake), her boyfriend Milton (Darren E. Burrows), the mol like Wanda (Traci Lords) and Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire) one of the most ‘unusual’ looking people ever to live. On the square side there is Allison’s boyfriend Baldwin (Stephen Mailer), a young man that would make Pat Boone look like a punk rocker reject. Just for fun add to the mix Lenora (Kim Webb) who in interested in Cry Baby only to be rebuffed by his sister.
This film is an amazingly fun romp through the fifties like you never imagined. It is basically the classic story of Romeo and Juliet filtered through the wonderful imagination of John Waters. Replace the feuding families with the different class strata, add a lively rock-a-billy soundtrack and infuse it with the energy few films can match and you have a film that is a must see. While the squares constantly put down the drapes they overlook one value in them that the squares can never truly manifest a sense of family. Odd as they are the drapes stick together, supporting each other while the squares are just focused on getting the socially correct mate and the attending the right college. Allison is the prototypical good girl looking across the tracks to the bad boy. In her world this is the ultimate form of rebellion. As Pepper puts it while defending Allison, ‘she's a scrape - part square, part drape.’
One of the best features of any John Water’s film is the casting. He has an eye that can discern talent in the most unlikely actors and bring out amazing performances from them. He has a loyal ensemble cast that follows him through most of his movies, glad to be part of the Water’s legacy. Casting Cry Baby was genius, At the time Johnny Depp was mostly known as the boyfriend in Nightmare on Elm Street and the young cop on 21 Jump Street. The later role propelled Depp to the cover of almost every teen heart throb magazine in the world. Here, Depp took on the bad boy with a heart of gold like few actors could. He made the audience like a character that was ostensibly a leather jacket clad punk. This film demonstrated to audiences and casting directors that Depp was a real actor of considerable talent and not just a television pretty boy. Amy Locane is the perfect all American pretty blonde next door. She is perky, beautiful and full of a youthful energy that flies off the screen. She makes us believe that wanting to be ‘bad’ is more than teen rebellion it is more a necessary rite of passage. Among the motley crew of John Water’s regular players is Traci Lords. Best known for her underage work in adult films Waters saw potential in her and helped her achieve her professional dream of main stream film work. He let her keep her cloths on and actually act. Then there is Riki Lake, long before she slimmed down and became a talk show icon. She is the heart of the film, embodied with pathos and understanding that humanizes the other cast members. Some of the stranger casting choices encompass the likes of Patricia Hearst, former kidnapped heiress as Wanda’s mother, rocker Iggy Pop and the unusual juxtaposition of Mink Stole and Troy Donahue as the parents of Hatchet-Face. Of course Kim McGuire as Hatchet-Face demonstrates a rubbery quality that I would have thought impossible for a human face.
While many direct their own writing few can do so with the flair of John Waters. He doesn’t strive for socially significance, he provides movies that twist reality in directions never before considered and gives the audience a fun time at the movies. Born and raised in the city of Baltimore he always uses his beloved home town as the back drop for his stories. He knows the city and that familiarity translates to a comfortable feel with the audience. His irreverent attitude doesn’t seem to respect much held dear by society but he does hold his audience in high esteem. We pay our money to be entertained and Waters delivers. Here, he infuses the film with musical numbers that range from a rendition of ‘Mister Sandman’ done in barber shop quartet harmony to a wild prison song and dance number that rivals Jailhouse rock. He takes a classic like Grease and brings it to the Bizzaro world on his fertile mind. While working for a major studio required losing some of the shock value of his early films the unrestrained fun remains. Usually audience love him or hate him but one thing, he is not your typical director. Of course, now that he has a Broadway hit with Hairspray he is more acceptable so you might want to check out some of his earlier film work. He has truly earned his moniker of the Pope of Trash, a name Waters wears proudly.
Universal chose to release the director’s cut of this film to DVD. It contains some seven minutes of additional footage, mostly in minor scenes but as one that has always enjoyed the original cut I noticed that some additional exposition was included. The remaster of the anamorphic 1.85:1 video is great, clear and free of defect with a brilliant, well balanced color palette. The Dolby audio presents the songs like never before while never compromising the dialogue. Included as an extra is ‘It Came From Baltimore’, a behind the scenes look at the making of the film with interviews of the cast and crew. Even this featurette has the unmistakable stamp of Waters. The commentary track with Waters is like a proud parent talking about a strange but beloved child. He muses over the challenges working for a studio presented and his strange and wonderful cast. Add to this some deleted scenes and you have a DVD that will hold a place of honor in your collection.