A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 80 – Cry Baby

Cry Baby – May 19th, 2010

I’m honestly not sure how to review this movie. I’m tempted to just say that it’s John Waters doing a fifties-era jailhouse Romeo and Juliet and leave it at that, but that’s not quite accurate or enough to explain it. The trouble is, I think it’s a parody and not a parody at the same time. I mean, it’s so self-aware it’s practically sentient, but it never quite breaks the fourth wall, but then it’s also making a serious stab at telling its story. Even if that story is a well-worn trope that practically tells itself. It’s this very specific type of over-the-top exaggeration that takes itself seriously and doesn’t at the same time.

I don’t remember the first time I saw this movie, but I know I’ve seen it a number of times. I’d seen it before college. Maybe on television? I’m not sure. I watched a lot of late night television when I was in high school. I’m nocturnal by nature and much happier when I can stay up at night and sleep during the day, so late night television was my friend when I could do that. And I vaguely recall seeing this and noticing Johnny Depp and the music and thinking it looked kind of cool and then getting totally sucked into it when it wasn’t quite what I’d expected at first. I’d sort of thought it was a regular old period musical romance type thing, done with rock and or roll. And it is. But it was never intended to be played with a completely straight face. Every line, every moment, every performance is done with a wink.

So you’ve got Allison, a good girl from a good family whose grandmother runs a charm school. And Allison sings sweet little songs to her friends, all the Squares. And then you’ve got Cry Baby, a bad boy from a bad family whose grandmother sells stolen hubcaps. And Cry Baby sings rock songs to all his friends, the Drapes. And of course they fall in love and then there’s a big fight between the Drapes and the Squares and Cry Baby ends up in jail and they can’t be together and there’s a lot of singing and dancing and impassioned looks and finally a game of chicken. There’s singing there too. I think saying “There’s a lot of singing” isn’t getting across just how much singing is in this movie. And even when there’s no singing, there’s music. It’s all very retro 1950s (which wasn’t a conscious part of us picking this movie tonight, even if last night’s was a similar time period – they’re not at all similar really, aside from some duck and cover jokes).

Everything in the movie is taken well beyond its parody until it’s a parody of parody. Cry Baby’s gang isn’t just bad, they’re the worst. His sister, Pepper, is a single teen mother with two kids already and a third on the way. Wanda, played to the hilt by Traci Lords, is a sexpot who flaunts her body. Hatchet-Face is, well, the tough chick, introduced wielding a switchblade. Milton is, as described by Cry Baby’s grandmother, “young, stupid and mean”, and also dating Hatchet-Face. Cry Baby’s grandmother wears several pounds of makeup and a series of bizarre outfits and is married to a man who’s introduced giving himself a bath in a metal wash basin in the front yard. He, by the way, is played by Iggy Pop, which makes me want to watch Trainspotting soon. Sure, they all sound like caricatures, and they are. The movie flat out tells you they are. Wanda actually attacks people with her breasts during the big fight and Pepper declares that she loves being bad so much she wishes she was carrying triplets (how carrying triplets would make her bad and not just fertile is beside the point – the intent of the line is pretty clear) and then there’s Cry Baby, whose ‘bad breeding’ comes from his father being a serial bomber who was sentenced to the electric chair, which Cry Baby has tattooed on his chest. He does something rotten every day in his father’s memory. The movie repeatedly breaks the Robot Devil’s rule of not announcing how your characters feel, but beyond that it announces how they are.

The whole movie plays in a way that goes “HEY! LOOK AT WHAT I DID JUST THERE!” while also knowing just how loudly it’s yelling that. It tricks itself into dealing with race issues of the time and juvenile delinquency and being free to be yourself by making a joke of it all, but shouting it as boldly as possible. Or singing it, as the case may be. I did mention all the singing, right?

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

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