A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Cry Baby

May 19, 2010

Cry Baby

Long ago (when I was in high school) I once had a bunch of friends spend the night at my parents’ house, including my then girlfriend and some of her friends. It should reveal a lot about my circle of friends that my friends and I rented Monty Python and the Holy Grail to watch. She and her friends watched Grease. That was the first time I watched Grease, and it deeply disappointed me. Because the end of the movie had the good girl betraying everything she was to get the guy. I’ve always been very much about allowing people to be themselves, and the notion that somebody had to change to be with the person she loved just didn’t sit well with me. Today we’re not reviewing Monty Python, or Grease. We’re reviewing the un-Grease.

Now I don’t think that Cry Baby is a conscious effort to spoof Grease. It pays homage to a lot of the same tropes because they both take place in an idealized fifties world of straight kids and greaser gangs. Sure they’re both fifties musicals and both have basically the same ending, with the confrontational car ride and the good girl gone bad, but they reach this destination with a very different intention.

The first actual line in Cry Baby is “I’m so tired of being good.” Allison is a Square who realizes during the opening credits that she wants to be a Drape. She wants to run with the crazy group of juvenile delinquents that is Cry Baby’s gang. And the whole movie is her journey to get there. John Waters brings us along on this journey into a strange and magical world of freaks and misfits, and you can’t help having a good time along the way.

Cry Baby’s gang include his crazy arms-dealing hillbilly grandmother, his whip thin hick uncle (Iggy Pop, clearly having a great time) who has for the past ten years been sleeping with his grandma (if I’m understanding this right,) his pregnant-in-highschool little sister, the crazy-faced Hatchet Face (she’s got character!), her good-for-nothing boyfriend Milton and Tracy Lords. It’s a very John Waters cast of characters, like a cleaned up for the nineties representation of the miscreants from Female Trouble and Pink Flamingos. And there’s such joy in the way they revel in their strangeness.

Maybe I’m wrong about it not being a conscious spoof of Grease. It is an intentional spoof. It’s a spoof of nostalgia in general. A deliberate lampooning of any movie that romanticises that time period. John Waters brings us this great group of misfits to present a nostalgia for a seedy fifties that never was. A time of cheerful pornographers, cigarette pushers, and kids gone gloriously bad. It’s like all the Ed Wood era morality tales of the dangers of hooliganism turned on its head to present a world where the only right-thinking thing to do is to rebel against the square, dry,homogenized and samey world of the fifties.

And at the same time it’s a rollicking musical with a bunch of great dance numbers while at the same time poking fun at itself.

Truth be told, this movie defies description. Which makes it hard to review. It’s not got the edgy outsider feel of Waters’ earlier work, but it still had a great love of the bizarre.

I’d like to close my review with another short anecdote from my past: my mother discovered John Waters through the movie Polyester (filmed in smell-around!) and Hairspray. She loved the work of long-time-waters mainstay Divine, and had heard an interview with Divine on NPR that mentioned Pink Flamingos. So she rented Pink Flamingos (this would probably in in about 1991 or so) to watch it with my then-eight-year-old little sister. Both of them were traumatized by the experience. I think that John Waters would like that. That his more mainstream films from the eighties warped and twisted the mind of a little girl.

Keep making the world a stranger place, John. You old weirdo.

May 19, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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