Viking Night: Cry-Baby
By Bruce Hall
March 13, 2012
How many degrees of separation would you say are between Johnny Depp and Traci Lords? Not that I have any reason to know who Traci Lords is. It's just a hypothetical question, like "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?", or "What's the airspeed velocity of an un-laden swallow?" So here's another one - what do you do if you've got a Jones to see Captain Jack Sparrow himself on screen with a porn star, a talk show host, a convicted terrorist, and a rock star who mutilates himself on stage? If you're my kind of people, you're already laughing because you know the answer to that question is...
"Rent Cry-Baby." Otherwise, you're probably asking yourself "What's a Cry-Baby?"
It's the very thing I just described - and so very, very much more. Cry-Baby is the demented vision of legendary trash-master John Waters and producer Rachel Talalay, who brought us such dubious gems as Tank Girl and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. And it is indeed the only place you can see Johnny Depp, Traci Lords, Ricki Lake and Patty Hearst. With Iggy Pop. You'd have to run for Governor of California to assemble a more impressive collection of misfits and weirdos in front of the same camera. But the sickest, strangest part of the whole thing is that it actually kind of works.
Set in a version of Baltimore that could only exist in a snow globe, Cry-Baby is a send up of the teen musical genre that must have made the 1950s the most horrible time to be alive since the 1350s. More specifically it's sort of a send up of Grease, which itself was kind of trying to mock same thing. The significance of this is that when you spoof something that's already a spoof, you get something that's about ten miles past “over the top.” It's a little bit like welding a rocket to another rocket to a Porsche 911, and then letting Charlie Sheen drive it. It's unnecessary and dangerous, not to mention unnecessarily dangerous.
It's also pretty freaking cool.
Cry-Baby is basically a classroom documentary on juvenile delinquency (a term as overused in the ‘50s as "gluten free" is today) dipped in sarcasm and deep fried in a pot melted string cheese. It concerns the exploits of one Cry-Baby Rickettes (Depp), a redneck malcontent with greasy hair and an oily sneer - but a heart of gold. He takes his name from the fact that whenever he's moved emotionally, he sheds a single, perfectly placed glycerin tear out of his left eye. It's very dramatic, especially if you're Johnny Depp and your entire head is made of soft triangles and heart-shaped pouts.
Cry-Baby rolls with his girls Pepper (Ricki Lake, in stuffed crust form), Wanda (Traci Lords) and the aptly named Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire). I'll pause here and give a shout out to the late Van Smith, make up designer on this film. He did such a good job that you'll want to do a Google image search on Kim McGuire to reassure yourself that a human being can't possibly look like that. Nonetheless, Cry-Baby and his crew are a happy platonic family of freaks who flout the law and spit in the face of justice, without ever getting into any real trouble. They call themselves Drapes, presumably because actual drapes function by enveloping a room in darkness, making them an obvious metaphor for criminal activity.