By Christina Moreno
(1990) John Waters
Though not the typical tacky filth-fest movie many of us know, Cry-Baby is definitely a John Waters film. Full of over-the-top parody of teen culture of the 1950’s and a great performance by Johnny Depp’s cheekbones, Cry-Baby has reached the cult status like most Waters’ films. Some other notable faces in the movie include Ricki Lake, Iggy Pop, and Traci Lords. It’s cheese and camp, which is a trademark of any good Waters movie and should be embraced by anyone who sees them. For those unfamiliar with John Waters’ work, it may come across as a bad movie, but that’s what John Waters is known for: making bad movies (that are so bad they’re good). Cry-Baby’s appeal is that it takes the squeaky-clean image of the 1950’s and rolls it around in the mud, but still keeps a nostalgic charm about it. The ironic thing is, Cry-Baby isn’t that different from more “serious” teen genre flicks of the era, such as Rebel Without A Cause. Just compare the two together.
In Cry-Baby, Wade “Cry Baby” Walker, a “drape” with a penchant for juvenile delinquency (and the ability to squeeze one tear from his dreamy eyes), falls in love with Allison Vernon-Williams, a pretty and virginal “square.” The two, who come from completely different sides of society, are at odds with the rest of the town. Drapes are rowdy, listen to rock n’ roll, have sex, smoke and are ultimately the coolest people to be around. Squares are boring, uptight, rich, and good-looking. Will Allison tame Wade’s wild heart? Will Wade show Allison that life’s not worth living without a little danger? Will the two ultimately bridge the gap between the squares and the drapes? Yes, Yes, and (spoiler alert) yes.
In Rebel Without a Cause we have almost the same situation; rebellious teen falls for not-so rebellious teen. They defy their parents, get in trouble with the police, and basically tried to depict the decaying state of youth in America at the time. The only difference is Rebel wasn’t a musical. But both show an image of the American teen that maybe wasn’t so true. Or maybe it was, but it wasn’t as dramatic as the flicks of the era made it out to be (the film Blackboard Jungle comes to mind). The decade the films take place in was when “the American teen” was finally recognized as such, a being with childish immaturity combined with adult urges (which both Cry-Baby and Rebel exploit). Rebel Without A Cause is considered a classic; Cry-Baby is considered camp, but both have all the same qualities. The distinction is Cry-Baby looks back to the past, Rebel looked at the present. Both are over dramatized depictions of youth culture. Both have incredibly good-looking male leads.
Johnny Depp was a teen idol for his role on the television series, “21 Jump Street”. He is one of the few former teen idols who’s career (or striking features) didn’t fade with age. By taking the role of Wade, Depp essentially made fun of his past. In fact, he’s stated the reason he took the role was to do just that. I will admit, the opening scene of Cry-Baby gives me goose-bumps. You know that footage of The Beatles when they come to the United State for the first time and all the girls are screaming, crying, and basically going insane? When Wade Walker makes his entrance to the gym to get his polio vaccination, it’s difficult to keep myself from doing just that. Depp has a reputation for playing characters who have problems “fitting in” with society. His career has many similarities with James Dean’s short-lived career. James Dean has become a cultural icon even though he was only in three films. Two of the three roles were outcasts that no one, parents or peers, could understand. This resonated with teens throughout the country. In a strange way, Dean and Depp both have risen beyond their teen idol status to pulling more weight as talented performers.
Cry-Baby, though not a critically acclaimed movie, gives a playful look back to when an idolization of youth was just beginning. We can watch and laugh, but teens are still giving parents a lot of things to worry about—sex, delinquency, and misbehaving in one form or another. Then again, that’s exactly what being a teenager is about: getting into some trouble while you’re still young enough to be forgiven for your stupidity.