Set in Baltimore in 1954, John Waters’s hilarious send-up of Grease (1978) and Jailhouse Rock (1957) revolves around juvenile delinquent and Elvis lookalike Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Johnny Depp) – the hip leader of the Drapes, a tough gang whose uniform is leather jackets and tattoos – having the hots for square society deb Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane).
Cry-Baby and Allison are both orphans. His parents died in the electric chair (he’s been weeping ever since), hers in an air disaster (they took separate planes, but both crashed).
Allison’s rich grandmother, crisply skewered by Polly Bergen, wants to keep the lovers apart. So does Allison’s straight-arrow boyfriend, Baldwin (Stephen Mailer, Norman’s son), who stages a fight that gets Cry-Baby sent to reform school.
Cry-Baby’s grandmother, Ramona (Susan Tyrrell), has a boyfriend named Belvedere (a wonderful Iggy Pop), who bathes in a tub in his yard. Cry-Baby’s blimpish unwed sister, Pepper (Ricki Lake), is pregnant with a third child.
Assisted by the sluttish Wanda (former teen porn star Traci Lords) and the aptly named Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire), Pepper does a bad-girl makeover on Allison.
There are the usual expected Waters gross-outs: Allison collects a jarful of her tears, then chugs it down; Pepper visits a foundling home in which the kids do household chores in decorated cages, and Cry-Baby winds up on the roof of his car during a “chicken race” while Pepper gives birth noisily in the back seat.
Best of all are the flabbergasting cameos: Heiress and former revolutionary Patty Hearst makes her acting debut as Lords’ mother, a housewife and school crossing guard who has never heard the word “fuck”. Hearst’s husband is played by David Nelson, the surviving son of Ozzie and Harriet.
A balding Troy Donahue, the former teen idol, shows up with a chain-smoking wife (Mink Stole) in an iron lung. And Joey Heatherton, Donahue’s sexy costar in My Blood Runs Cold (1965), plays a religious fanatic who speaks in tongues.
They’re all awful and great fun. It’s tawdry celebrity on the rampage. Waters revels in it.
A superb hepcat soundtrack mixes real throbbing golden oldies with wonderful hormone-busting rock ‘n’ roll parodies, creating a crackpot jamboree that perfectly captures the Fifties, then parodies and transcends the period.
The nostalgic delights in Waters’ reform school drool are often more subtle than his other period offering, Hairspray (1988), but it’s still a polished debunking of pop culture from the “Pope of Trash”.
Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker
James Intveld (singing vocals)
Rachel Sweet (singing vocals)
Night Court parent
Mary Vivian Pearce