If you’ve seen any of John Waters’ movies, you know to expect a certain breed of weird misfit comedy that is wonderful and dark and hilarious; Cry-Baby (1990) is one of those movies.
It’s not as good as Hairspray, and it might not be as dark as any of Waters’ work with Divine, but Cry-Baby is a fun, campy send-up of and love-letter to every 1950s teen movie.
Here’s a clip from another movie full of 1950s nostalgia, that hits on every piece of nostalgia parodied in Cry-Baby:
The movie hits all of the clichés and tropes expected in those types of movie with the bad boy with a sensitive side Cry-Baby, his gang of wrong side of the tracks, poor, ragtag misfits, and the pure but stifled by social conventions Allison.
You know how the story is going to go, because you’ve all seen the story before. You know that Cry-Baby and Allison will end up together because their love is of course, society-defying and amazing.
You know that the rough redneck misfit Drapes will triumph over the Squares because the underdogs always win. (You also know that 1950s slang was ridiculous and hilarious and you will laugh every time you hear someone proclaim “I am proud to be a Square!” and you will start singing this to yourself until one of the many great music numbers begin, and there are MANY.)
Johnny Depp is Cry-Baby, and he almost reminds you that people actually liked Johnny Depp in the ’90s. He might even convince you that you still like Johnny Depp, but you don’t, remember that. Jack Sparrow is done. We’re done with Johnny Depp. Let’s all agree on that right now.
The rest of the cast is great and comprises late ’80s/early ’90s John Waters faves, like Ricki Lake as Cry-Baby’s pregnant sister, Pepper, and Kim McGuire as Hatchet-Face. Iggy Pop plays Cry-Baby’s grandfather figure, and Traci Lords is the badass Wanda.
Amy Locane is great as the perfectly sweet-faced Allison, and you will definitely find yourself wondering what happened to her after the ’90s. They all make a wonderfully mismatched cast that it adds to the weird found family in the Cry-Baby crew. John Waters even includes ’50s heartthrob Troy Donahue as Hatchet-face’s dad for that extra level of metanarrative quirk.
Amazing 1950s moments in Cry-Baby
- The opening scene, where all the characters are quickly drawn as “Drapes” (bad kids) or “Squares” (good, wholesome kids) while getting polio vaccines.
- Cry-Baby and Allison’s orphan backstories.
- Did I mention orphanages and hijinks?
- Teenage Rebellion (and my actual life motto).
- Hilarious Teenage Fantasies.
- Teenage love, in its varied horrifying forms.
- Cry-Baby’s badass girl crew whose clothes are “too tight” and “too flashy” but they don’t care because look at them:
- Parents who Just Don’t Understand (but they try so hard).
- Cops that are both ineffective and too quick to react.
- Cry-Baby as Juvenile Delinquent.
- Jailhouse song stylings.
- Lead Square Baldwin’s proclamation of love to Allison making her question her dedication to Cry-Baby (following this weird Square conga line through the town).
- An attempted jail break that has Hatchet-face scaring all the inmates.
- The best plea for the end of a jail term ever.
- A game of chicken, where the loser crashes into a chicken coop.
Cry-Baby is now on Netflix Instant because the Netflix Gods are good and just.