Despite my immense affinity for cult/trash/Grade-Z material, before seeing Cry-Baby, I'd never watched a John Waters film. I know, that's sacrilege in many pop cultures. I have my reasons, though (the first time I'd ever heard of him, the words "eating dog feces" were connected). So, here I plunge into his world of the garish and bizarre...and I'm not so convinced I want to return.
Don't get me wrong. For what it's worth, Cry-Baby is amusing. It's chock-full of wild moments of great comic potential, cute parodies of 1950s-era teen delinquency films, and the cast is a veritable who's who of cult icons, from Iggy Pop on down to cameo appearances by Mink Stole and Andy Warhol favorite Joe Dallesandro. The plot, about a Good Girl who gets led down the path of delinquency with positive results by Cry-Baby (played by Johnny Depp) and his gang of Drapes, is ripped right from any number of 50s flicks, and is played as a throwback to that era.
The main problem with the film is that somebody forgot to write flesh-and-blood characters. Who are these people? Everybody is some sort of freakazoid caricature. Even Austin Powers has more internal life than these people. Cry-Baby is the Rebel with a Soul. Allison (Ami Locane) is the good girl who wants to be bad, and her boyfriend Baldwin (Stephen Mailer) is the Ultimate Square. Sure, there's a lot of quirk behind these folks, but that's all they seem to be running on.
Luckily, Depp deftly (depply?) holds things together. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I can watch this boy pick his nose for 90 minutes and be fascinated. It doesn't matter how poorly his part is written, or how bad his surrounding are, Johnny Depp will always be the glue of a film. I can't think of a single film that doesn't benefit from his presence (and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare DOESN'T COUNT).
Most of the musical numbers (yup, this is a musical of sorts) are positively underwhelming. The only two I can think of that actually worked very well are the very last two ("Please, Mr. Jailer" and "High School Hellcats"). The others are just...bleh...and take up time that could have been used to flesh out the fairly weak plot.
A lot of films of such watery characterization and story are saved through simply being absolutely insane. Hell, a lot of my favorite films are that way. Waters tries to be a total nut, but his jokes and pokes just aren't up to scratch. The humor runs thin enough to see that there isn't much underneath to sustain the film. It's worth a rental, if you're in the mood for something offbeat but less filling, but don't expect a revelation.