The Johnny Depp Archive

Cry-Baby (1990)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Amy Locane, Iggy Pop, Susan Tyrell, Polly Bergen, Traci Lords, Kim McGuire, Ricki Lake, Darren E Burrows, Troy Donahue, Mink Stole, Willem Dafoe

Directed by: John Waters

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Johnny Depp as Wade 'Cry-Baby' Walker in John Waters classic musical

Okay, first things first, Cry-Baby is a film for teenagers - in particular bored, middle class teenagers who dream of being wild. Which means that now, 15 years on from the summer when a bored, middle class teenager rented this effervescent John Waters musical comedy, oh, about six times, this thirty-plus non-desperate housewife is never going to appreciate it quite as much as she once did. But even if my heart no longer thrills quite so exuberantly at the sight of a black car with flames down the sides, I still can't help getting a little bit excited at the thought of inhabiting a Technicolor East Coast 1950s world, when breasts were pointy, lips were red, and all you had to do to be cool was shrug on a leather jacket, flick your collar up and slick your hair down and suck on a cigarette.

'I'm so tired of being good,' sighs Sandra Dee lookalike Allison Vernon-Smith (Amy Locane), blonde, beautiful and lousy with virginity. Step up drop dead gorgeous bad boy Wade 'Cry-Baby' Walker (Johnny Depp): he's got the jacket, the boots, the shades, the tabs, the attitude and boy has he got the hair; he's a Drape - a Baltimore term for a rockabilly gang member - and for a pretty little Square like Allison, he spells bad news. Always assuming he can spell at all, that is.

The Cry-Baby gang: Milton, Hatchet Face, Cry-baby, Pepper and Wanda

A product of a broken home, his family makes the Addamses (Morticia and Gomez or Scarlet, Kelly-Marie and Shellsuit Boab) seem positively functional. His scary white trash grandmother, Ramona Ricketts (Susan Tyrell) and dodgy Uncle Belvedere (Iggy Pop, in his first 'acting' role) make a dubious living selling knocked off weaponry and running a lakeside hang-out known as Turkey Point, the 'Redneck Riviera' that's the destination of choice for Baltimore's disaffected youth - the much feared 'juvenile delinquents' of American post war media culture. Together with his gang of misfits and weirdoes - pregnant sister Pepper (a post Hairspray Ricki Lake, when she was still fat), glamorous slapper Wanda (pouting porn star Traci Lords), gawky Milton (Darren E Burrows) and the freakily ill favoured Hatchet Face (Kim McGuire) - Cry-Baby spends his time playing guitar, singing rock'n'roll and looking good (with the obvious exception of Hatchet Face, of course...).

Jailhouse Rock - Johnny Depp as Cry-Baby

And what more could you want? Cry-Baby is, in the end, all about appearances. 'You are cool, Allison,' Cry-Baby tells her earnestly, 'You just look square. Underneath you're really hep.' Our hero, on the other hand, is a nice boy who happens to be born on the wrong side of the tracks, and is blessed with an incredibly cool hairstyle. Energetic, determined and fiercely loyal to friends and family, there is much to admire about this so called juvenile delinquent. 'Drapes are people too,' squeaks Allison, 'they just look different.' They're self-confessed bad seeds, high school hellcats with sharpened claws. Except that we never actually see them do anything more evil than speeding on an empty road and giving a bit of lip - hardly criminal offences.

The squeaky clean Squares, on the other hand, are just as free with their fists as the Drapes, adding vandalism, cruelty and arson to their list of crimes before the movie's up. Yet it's poor old Cry-Baby who ends up in the slammer, setting the scene for the best moments of the film - Johnny's Jailhouse Rock numbers (with his curly-lipped sneer and convulsing legs, he has the King down to a T) and the pièce de resistance, 'Please Mr Jailer'.

And, as you'd expect of a film that's all about appearances, Cry-Baby looks bloomin' marvellous. Shot in full blown Elvis movie Technicolor, it apes to perfection the 1950s teen movies it pays homage to – Live Fast, Die Young (the star of which, Troy Donahue, makes a brief and disreputable appearance here), The Wild One, Rebel Without A Cause – featuring all those '50s clichés we know and love, from 'duck and cover' atom bomb drills to chicken runs to (eek!) iron lungs. The costumes are fantastic and the styling to die for, and the musical numbers look fabulous (even if the songs are less than memorable – but who knew that Johnny, with his infamous two left feet, could ever dance so well?). Fizzing with verve and enthusiasm, it's like an older, edgier brother to that teenage musical favourite Grease, as the straight girl gets to have a bad girl makeover John Waters style (I don't recall Olivia Newton John swigging down a jam jar full of tears, nor, as far as I know, were Danny Zuko's parents fried in the electric chair…).

Johnny is simply marvellous – cute as a button and hammy as a pig sandwich, he is (as he always is) the epitome of cool – while sweet 17-year-old Amy Locane lends a blend of innocence and daring to the role of Allison that makes her sudden transformation from Square to Drape seem surprisingly credible and endearing. Oh, and watch out for Willem Dafoe's blink and you miss it cameo as a sadistic prison warder – priceless.

Haphazard, overblown and not a little ridiculous, this film of appearances may be superficial and frothy as a prom dress but it's nevertheless enormously good fun. Even if you're too old to be a teenager in love, you'll still fall head over heels for this cool cat rebel without a cause.

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