Every so often, we like to mix a little bit of the absurd into our Required Viewing selections, and John Waters’ 1990 cult favorite Cry-Baby is nothing if not absurd. This send-up of ’50s teen movies is part musical, part satire and all Johnny Depp making capital ‘C’ Choices.
Okay, AM. Give us your take on Cry-Baby, including whether or not we should have watched something like Rebel Without A Cause first.
A: So this film is what happens when you put Grease up to a funhouse mirror and probably throw in some LSD. I had heard that John Waters was kind of nuts, but I had never seen his work. Here to confirm: he’s pretty out there. I actually wasn’t aware this was a Waters joint before we watched, but the DVD case gave it away, so I had some idea of what to expect.
This is no doubt a weird film, but it does have some emotional honesty that keeps it grounded. Before we get into the specifics, Brooke, please enlighten me as to why this movie is on your must-watch list. Also, yes we could have watched Rebel Without A Cause but I feel like Grease is probably a closer comparison. Am I wrong?
B: I feel like the unwritten rule is that you’re supposed to guess why I put anything on the list at any given point. But I’ll allow you to skirt the tradition just this once because “So this film is what happens when you put Grease up to a funhouse mirror and probably throw in some LSD,” made me laugh. A lot. Most of the time I select movies that I love. And therefore feel that you should love too. In the case of Cry-Baby, the selection was driven by the fact that it’s a picture I felt you needed to experience. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Cry-Baby a great deal, it’s camp, camp, camp and I’m okay with that, but it’s not a movie that gives me feels or anything. But I do always end up singing “Pleaaaaaaaaaaase, Mr. Jailer” for days after I watch it.
As for your second query, you should know, and it gives me no joy to say this, you are wrong. (Okay, I enjoyed it a little.) Grease, like Cry-Baby, is a comedy made after the particular type of teen movie they’re inspired by had gone the way of the dodo. Rebel Without A Cause is a drama made firmly in this period, so it has none of the winks and jabs the later pictures do. It’s earnest in a way Cry-Baby and even Grease never could be. We’ll watch it sometime, you’ll see. But enough of history, I want opinions!
Tell me about your experience watching this movie, what thoughts ran through your mind? Then tell me, even though I already know, would young AM have been a Drape or a Square? And finally, Cry-Baby or Baldwin, who would you have for your fella?
A: First of all, I think I’m not wrong, because we agree: Grease and Cry-Baby are of the same ilk, while Rebel is a different beast altogether. Right? I mean, we can certainly disagree and perhaps even be wrong once in awhile, but I think we’re aligned.
Back to the matter at hand.
So here’s how the main thoughts lined up:
- Oh, this is featuring a LOT of kids getting polio vaccines.
- Please stop showing this, I hate getting shots.
- IS THIS THE SHOT THAT MAKES A HUGE DENT IN YOUR ARM? GAHHH!
- Thank the gods, Johnny Depp is finally here (Never thought I would think that).
- I guess this is the meet-cute?
- I know we’re supposed to find Hatchet Face ugly, but wowza, she is grotesque.
- This movie is weird.
- Ok, I think I get what they’re going for. Satire of the 1950s.
- I think I’ll have another slice of pizza (This was our dinner choice, and while not themed, was perfect because pepperoni pizza is perfect).
- The single tear thing is definitely weird.
- But, these kids love each other. It’s bizarre but sweet.
And so on.
I mean, we all know I’m a Square. I think Brooke might skirt the line because she’s more rebellious than me, but ultimately I think we’re both Squares. And I’m going to pick neither Baldwin or Cry-Baby and pick Hatchet Face’s boyfriend. He is the best.
Brooke, where do you stand on Disagreement Gate 2018? Which boyfriend is the top pick, and can you please give me a film school primer on the purpose of the campiness of this film?
B: Your thoughts capture this experience quite well. It’s a lot of wait, what, why? But also a lot of, aww, that’s kind of sweet.
Unfortunately, Re: Disagreement Gate 2018, my friend, you are still wrong. Wrong. You see, you correctly observed that Grease, like Cry-Baby, owes a debt to the teen movies of the ’50s. But you failed to catch my meaning that Grease isn’t a suitable primer for Cry-Baby, because it too is derivative of Rebel Without A Cause and pictures of similar ilk. Watching Grease for a contextual understanding of the Rebel Without A Cause-era tropes Cry-Baby plays with would be like watching Jersey Shore and then using the Meatballs & Company as a lens to explain the cultural impact of The Real World in the ’90s, without ever having seen The Real World or living in the ’90s.
Great news though, even though you were wrong, wrong, wrong before, you absolutely aced the boyfriend test! Hatchet Face’s boyfriend is amazing. Getchu a man who looks at you the way he looks at Hatchet and you’re golden. Now, I definitely wouldn’t be so foolish as to pick Baldwin — he sucks — but I think we both know I would lose it over Cry-Baby. And you’re also right that I definitely fall closer to the Square category than the Drape category (#rules), but I’d like to think that I, like Alison, would be able to walk the line as a Scrape.
I don’t think we can go so far as to assign purpose to anything that happens in a John Waters flick, but suffice it to say that all of this camp is a kind of twisted love letter to those 1950s joints. It’s the kind of satire that could only be made with the deepest of love and the most audacious of intentions.
Okay, let’s chat about Ricki Lake, because you being surprised and delighted that she could sing when we watched Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was what reminded me about Cry-Baby.
A: Ok, I think we might agree, making me not wrong. The original source material, as it were, is indeed crucial for understanding the larger landscape in which the farces are created. #samepage #disagreementgate2018
Now that I believe we’re cleared up, I do want to inquire more about Rebel. Do you think that film in particular influenced Waters’ film? (Or, has he said that?) I pulled Grease out of the 1950s movie lineup because, well, I’ve seen it, but I’m sure there are other movies set in the 1950s as well as hundreds that actually took place in the 1950s. I’m assuming lots of things (plus lots of drugs) are responsible for the mind behind Cry-Baby, so Brooke, can we dig deeper here?
Oh Ricki, sweet thing. I suppose my surprise at her singing/dancing talents comes from knowing her as a talk show host. She was sort of a Jerry Springer without the fights or Oprah without the power. But she’s clearly more talented, so it was certainly a delight to see her pop up here.
What other ground have we not covered? Sets? Costumes?
B: It’s funny, because it still sort of sounds like you were wrong, but are now semi-successfully convincing me otherwise. I’m moving on, still feeling correct, for the record. #samepage #kindof #disagreementgate2018 #whatifwedisagreedmore
Anyway … I haven’t actually spent much time researching Mr. Waters’ influences, though I vaguely recall discussions of them in my film school days. I think it’s fair to assume that Rebel is an influence here, if only because it established the tone for so many movies set AND made in the ’50s (aka not Grease). The whole Drape aesthetic is very much in the image of James Dean. I’d also hazard a guess that your Beach Blanket Bingo-style beach party movies also played a part in informing Cry-Baby.
Teen movies of that type spilled over well into the ’60s and showed an increasing disconnect between the old-school approach of the studios and the new generation. This is how you start getting the Movie Brat directors blowing up all of the formats and redefining American cinema in the 1970s. Hollywood forgot to move past the ’50s and I think Waters chose to play with that aesthetic because it was so indicative of a teen movie for so long. And yeah, I think lots of drugs is a safe bet too.
I think we’ve hit most of the high points, but sets and costumes are worth exploring. I am 100% on board with the Drape clothing choices, but I think I prefer the Square hangouts — they have tea!
AM give us your thoughts on the clothes and the hangs and the last, probably most important, element that we need to discuss: the grandmas!
A: I’ve always liked the stereotypical 1950s poodle skirt aesthetic because it’s got that historic yet classic Basic White Girl look. That juxtaposed with the leather of the Drapes? You can see why that’s also a classic combo, combining the Good Girl with the Bad Boy.
Also on board for the refined tea hangouts; honestly the Drapes had the view of the overlook but not a whole lot else going for their spaces. And since a lot of the action takes place at sort of forgettable suburban locations, there’s not much to ogle at, which I think is also the point.
Forgive me if I’m wrong again, but I believe there aren’t a lot of parents in this universe. The grandmas seem to be the only adults in the picture? They are quite awesome, and I love how in the mix they are. What’s your impression of the grandma situation? Are the grandmas here better than the ones in Grandma’s Boy?
B: This time you’re quite correct. Alison and Cry-Baby bond over the fact that they are both orphans. Cry-Baby because his daddy was the Alphabet Bomber and got sent to the electric chair for his crimes. His mother tried to stop his father, but she too got the chair, prompting Cry-Baby to hate electricity and also to get a tat on his chest commemorating the tech that took his family away. Meanwhile, Alison’s parents died in plane crashes. They took separate flights to protect the very eventually that she would be orphaned by a plane crash, but both planes went down. Ergo, both Cry-Baby and Alison were largely brought up by their grandmas. These grannies are definitely on par with the granny in Grandma’s Boy. All of them love their grandchildren and do some pretty badass things in the name of protecting them. The Drape grandma gets the better first impression as she’s out there having a blast with the youths, (very Bertie Mae White of her, BTW), but it is Alison’s grandmother who seduces the judge and convinces him to let Cry-Baby go free, so bonus points for her.
I think we’ve managed more chatter about this movie than anyone could reasonably expect of a 90-odd minute foray where the plot is mostly boy meets girl, girl drinks her tears to symbolize her love for boy, boy and girl sing together. So let’s leave it with this:
Next time we visit the recent past with a documentary about some iconic footballers.
Main image credit: Universal Studios
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