Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Film Review: CRY-BABY (1990, John Waters)

Stars: 4.6 of 5.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Johnny Depp, Amy Locane (SECRETARY, AIRHEADS), Susan Tyrrell (FORBIDDEN ZONE, FAT CITY, FLESH + BLOOD), Polly Bergen (CAPE FEAR '62, THE MEN), Iggy Pop, Ricki Lake (HAIRSPRAY, SERIAL MOM), Traci Lords (VIRTUOUSITY, SERIAL MOM), Kim McGuire (SERIAL MOM, David Lynch's ON THE AIR), Willem Dafoe, Joe Dallesandro (THE LIMEY, FLESH, BLOOD FOR DRACULA), Mink Stole (PINK FLAMINGOS, DESPERATE LIVING, LOST HIGHWAY), Troy Donahue (IMITATION OF LIFE, COCKFIGHTER), Joey Heatherton (BLUEBEARD, THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES TO WASHINGTON), and Patty Hearst in her fiction film debut.
Tag-lines: "Too young to be square... Too tough to be shocked... Too late to be saved..."
Best one-liner: "Let's all put on a folk hat and learn something about a foreign culture!" (said by Patty Hearst) or perhaps "Woo-Wee, you caught me in my birthday suit, butt-naked" (said by Iggy Pop).

Psuedo-commercial John Waters (PECKER, SERIAL MOM) is not necessarily better than shoestringy, gutter sleaze John Waters (FEMALE TROUBLE, DESPERATE LIVING), they're just different- much like, say, the difference between TWIN PEAKS-Lynch and INLAND EMPIRE-Lynch. Some artists flourish under constraints (you can't show Divine devouring dog stools or Liz Renay getting rabies in the ass in a PG-13 film), and Waters is creative enough to make a film which nominally pleases the mainstream, yet is still deliciously infested with his trademarked pervy pizazz. This film is an oddball tour de force of sheer, ludicrous delights from a tittering, perfidious sewer rat to a devout Joe Dallesandro zealously bellowing "Let Jesus Christ be your gang-leader!" into a megaphone (as Joey Heatherton shudders beside him in a pious frenzy)-

In short, CRY-BABY is the bee's knees. It's Drapes vs. Squares, forbidden love, a 10th-rate Baltimore Disneyland, rockabilly concerts, an orphanage jailbreak, an epic “chicken” duel and an amalgamation of everything that Waters loves about the 1950's from JAILHOUSE ROCK to TEENAGE GANG DEBS.

The bizarro performances range from the hammy to the outré. Johnny Depp transforms the act of frequent, stoic weeping into something worthy of Tiger Beat magazine.

The legendary Susan Tyrrell (FAT CITY), while wearing a taxidermy bird helmet, sputters and chortles and emotes and blows away "goddamn gophers." It’s a work of mad genius and truly a sight to behold.

Tyrrell's trademark cackle.

Tyrrell and Pop. Best onscreen couple since Tyrrell and Rutger Hauer in FLESH + BLOOD. Who were the best onscreen couple since Tyrrell and Hervé 'Ze Plane' Villechaize in FORBIDDEN ZONE. Who were the best onscreen couple since Tyrrell and Stacy Keach in FAT CITY.

Iggy Pop is her husband, bathing himself in a wooden tub on the lawn and being an all-around good sport. Amy Locane embraces a sort of 'young Kathleen Turner' aesthetic, and Waters' two favorite pariahs (Traci Lords and Patty Hearst) exude, respectively, pose-worthy sass and adorable gullibility. Mink Stole speaks in tongues, and there's a 3-D moviegoing experience that'd make William Castle proud:

Willem Dafoe even appears for an ass-slapping cameo as a sleazoid, country-drawlin' prison guard.

"We gonna give you a haircut, pretty boy!"

By gum, this shit is great. Nearly five stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Yes, this is a wonderful film and responsible for starting Johnny Depp on a tear of great film roles as he finally shed his TEEN BEAT image once and for all.

I think I actually prefer post-PINK FLAMINGOS Waters if only for him sneaking in all sorts of subversive things, like teabagging into his later works. I mean, it doesn't get much better than Kathleen Turner beating an old lady to death with a leg of lamb for not rewinding in SERIAL MOM. Or Stephen Dorff as a cinematic revolutionary in CECIL B. DEMENTED. Take that Dogme! But I think that my sentimental fave might have to be PECKER. It's just so much fun.

But I do dig CRY-BABY for all the reasons you stated so well. It is a fun romp of a film to be sure.

Simon said...

Why can't Johnny Depp and/or John Waters make this kind of weird shit anymore? If only it had Divine.

Sean Gill said...


I always think I prefer one mode of John Waters over the other, and then I'll see the unhinged, exhilarating insanity of something like DESPERATE LIVING and decide that I prefer cheap n' gritty Waters. Then I'll rewatch SERIAL MOM and think just the opposite. Definitely a big fan of PECKER and CECIL, but I've basically avoided A DIRTY SHAME based on what I've heard.

Well supposedly, FRUITCAKE is on the horizon, which I've got high hopes for, but I think John is definitely in a phase where he prefers being a personality to being a filmmaker. We'll see.

And R.I.P., Divine.