A giant poster of Cry-Baby used to hang in one of the classrooms of my high school when I was attending in the early 90s. It was probably placed there by some girls who probably liked Johnny Depp, and while I knew of its existence this is one of those movies that I never got around to watch until now, almost exactly 22 years later after its release. The only thing I knew about it was that it featured Johnny Depp who would shed a tear from time to time, had juvenile porn star Traci Lords in an actual acting role that didn’t require her to have sex on camera, that there was a really ugly chick in it and talk-show host Ricki Lake would also have a role, as would be required since she was a John Waters regular.
Cry-Baby is set in 1950’s Baltimore and is the story of a love-affair between a Draper and a Square. Drapers are mostly juvenile delinquents and wear black leather jackets. Squares are the goody two-shoes and always look pristine. As you can probably tell by the description it sounds like a rip-off of Grease, which it is actually, though not quite. The movie is supposed to be intended like a parody of movies like Grease and Jailhouse Rock and this where the problem lies: for a parody to succeed the material it parodies should be taking itself serious. That’s why movies like Airplane, Hotshots and Scary Movie work so well; because disaster movies, the Rambo movies and a lot of Slasher played it straight. Musicals like Grease already feel like parody of themselves with their little-to-no plot serving just so the cast can sing catchy songs. So Cry-Baby feels more like a general addition to the genre than a parody, and as an entry it’s not that strong.
I found the music in Cry-Baby to be unmemorable. They’re tunes that are instantly forgotten and make no real impact. I wasn’t humming one or more tunes when this was over, something I did do after watching Grease or the remake of Hairspray. I can even recall a number from Grease 2 while I’ve seen that movie once a couple of years ago, I can’t hum anything out of Cry-Baby, a movie I just saw a day ago. It doesn’t help Cry-Baby’s songs are not performed by the actors themselves.
Cry-Baby isn’t a complete failure. Johnny Depp, a teen icon at the time, has fun in his first real starring role (he starred in a sex comedy named Private Resort 5 years earlier but the advertising focussed more in women in bikini than Johnny Depp). He would star in his first Tim Burton movie that same year marking the moment he started to develop his extravagant acting style. Most of the other actors here are overshadowed by their looks and wardrobe. Ricky Lake is 15 months pregnant or so it seems and Hatchet Face really looks grotesque.
Cry-baby is a movie for a specific audience, one that I clearly don’t belong to. The movie is a campy feel good musical which does have happy vibe running throughout and some of the scenes are generally funny, but I never really got invested. everything is too superficial. Grease was also superficial, but at least had a killer sound track. The only memorable tune here was Mr. Sandman, which actually made me want to see Back To The Future again.