John Waters' 1990 tribute to the teenage delinquent and Elvis Presley movies of the 1950s remains his most popular and accessible film to date. With a fantastic lead performance from Johnny Depp and an excellent supporting cast made up of some interesting cult movie figures, Cry-Baby may not pack the offensive punch his earlier material did but it's still one hundred percent John Waters from start to finish and it's the perfect follow up to his 1988 film, Hairspray.
Depp plays Wade Walker, nicknamed Cry-Baby for his strange ability to shed only a single tear. He runs with a pack of motorcycle riders and is looked at by a lot of people as a trouble maker because of his look. He meets a young woman named Alison (Amy Locane) who lives with her Grandmother who runs a local Baltimore Finishing School and who keeps Alison firmly under her thumb to assure she remains prim and proper at all times. Alison falls for Cry-Baby hook, line and sinker, and soon ventures off to a secret spot where the cool kids hang out and where she finds out Cry-Baby performs his rockabilly music.
Word gets out about what's happening up there at Turkey Point and the more uptight members of the community head up there to start trouble. A fight breaks out, Cry-Baby's motorcycle gets lit on fire, and he ends up in being sent off to reform school for a while to pay for what he's done. Alison knows it wasn't his fault though and, completely enraptured with the young man, she sets out to clear his name and help him out whether he likes it or not.
Filled with plenty of oddball musical numbers and strange supporting characters, Cry-Baby was the first film that Johnny Depp made after the success of 21 Jumpstreet made him a hit with the ladies. This role only solidified his sex appeal but also went a fair ways towards foreshadowing just how good an actor Depp would later become. He's perfect as Cry-Baby, bringing just enough pathos and Elvis-like swagger to the role to really make it work. If this were Depp's show and Depp's show alone, it'd be a good film but thanks to the motley crew of supporting players, it's actually a great film.
Amy Locane is perfect as the cute and a little naïve rich girl who falls for the greasy biker boy. To make things more interesting, not only does former underage porno queen Traci Lords show up here in one of her first legitimate acting roles (exuding sex appeal and doing a fine job with the material) but Iggy Pop has a part, Willam Dafoe, Rickie Lake and Mink Stole show up as well, and even Troy Donahue gets a turn in front of the camera. Patty Hearst is in here too, as are Mary Vivian Pierce, Joey Heatherton, and Susan Tyrell.
Despite the typical 50s bad boy plot, the film isn't a completely wholesome affair – this is a Waters film after all. While hardly a raunch-fest in the tradition of Pink Flamingos or Desperate Living, Waters still packs the film with a wicked sense of humor and more than a few clever innuendos. This unrated director's cut of the film omits some of the scenes shot for television broadcast (they're thankfully preserved in the extras section) and reinstates a little bit of the 'offensive content' that was cut, as Waters was obliged to turn in a PG-13 film this time out.
Everything in the film just works – the singing, the choreography, the casting, the dialogue, the cinematography and the sets – Waters nailed them all. Though some fans were a little concerned about the Crown Prince of Trash going Hollywood, Cry-Baby served as proof that although his filmmaking had changed he was very capable of making an A-list studio picture that's actually more than just the flavor of the month. Cry-Baby's got charm to spare!
Aside from a few scenes that exhibit some moderate grain, Universal's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for Cry Baby looks excellent. The colors look great on this DVD, the reds coming through especially nicely, looking quite bold and never falling apart or bleeding into the other tones. The black levels are deep and strong and don't break up or exhibit any shimmering or mpeg compression artifacts at all. There is some mild edge enhancement and mild line shimmering in a few spots in the movie but to be honest, you really have to be looking for it to even notice it in the first place and it doesn't prove to be distracting at all. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural, not pink or tan as in some transfers – the people look like people here. There's a pretty solid level of both foreground and background detail in the picture as well, which is always a nice bonus. Universal has done a very nice job in the video department on this release.
Cry-Baby is presented in a very nice Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track in its native English language. English closed captions are available and there are optional subtitles on the disc provided in French and Spanish. The stereo track does justice to the music and the dialogue and everything comes through clean and clear without any hiss or distortion audible in the mix. While it would have been nice to see an optional 5.1 mix included on the disc, the track here is of excellent quality none the less. Bass levels are strong, sound effects and background music are mixed in with the dialogue perfectly and never overshadow the performers, and there are a few moments that really benefit from the channel separation that is there. Nicely done.
First up is another one of John Waters' fantastic commentary tracks. If you've listened to one of his director's commentaries before you'll know what to expect – a witty, funny, and genuinely interesting look back at the making of the movie from his own skewed perspective – and that's exactly what we get here on this release as well (and fans wouldn't have it any other way). Waters strolls down memory lane and explains many of the casting decisions he made for the film, plenty of details about why he's obsessed with crime and true crime stories, where he got a lot of his inspiration and ideas from for the film and much more. Waters is never at a loss for words and he keeps things moving along at a nice and steady pace and manages to be completely entertaining and quite interesting at the same time.
Up next is a forty-eight minute documentary on the making of the film entitled It Came From Baltimore. This extensive look back at the making of Cry-Baby takes us back to the making of the film via some extensive and fascinating interviews with Johnny Depp, Traci Lords, Ricki Lake and of course Mr. Waters himself. They cover the music, the script, the performances, casting decisions, apprehensions and expectations and much more. Everyone involved in the film looks back on things with no small amount of satisfaction and this is a truly excellent companion piece to the Waters commentary track. Between these two features, you'll learn pretty much everything that there is to learn about the film and its genesis. One of the more interesting aspects of this piece is how the documentary provides us with clips and stills from a lot of the 50s bad boy movies that inspired the movie and comparing Waters' tribute to the actual thing is rather interesting.
After that are five deleted scenes. The sing off that was on the TV version after Cry-Baby gets out of jail is in here in its complete form, a scene with Hatchet Face and her boy toy in the helicopter resulting in him getting air sick, and two scenes with Traci Lords one of which results in some forced pin up modeling (the irony in these moments is hard to miss, considering Ms. Lords past in the adult entertainment industry and how it played out towards the end of her time therein).
Rounding out the extra features are trailers for The Big Lebowski and The Wedding Date. All in all, an excellent assortment of extra features adorns this list, but where's the trailer for the film itself?
There's really not much to complain about with this release. Universal have provided Waters' preferred cut of the film with excellent audio and video quality and gone the extra mile to include some extremely worthwhile extras. Cry-Baby remains one of his most accessible films but still provides plenty for fans of his older work to enjoy as well. The movie holds up really well to repeat viewings and the music and performances suit the storyline perfectly. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.