Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie. It could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like.
With Johnny Depp set to appear in Rob Marshall’s big screen adaptation of Into the Woods in a little over a week, I thought it would be a good time to revisit his first movie musical role, as the titular greaser in John Water’s Cry-Baby from 1990. Waters and Depp’s career arcs passed each other at the perfect time. Depp emerged from four years on 21 Jump Street ready to put his looks to use in new and weird ways. 1990 was a busy year for him, as he also appeared in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. Meanwhile, Waters had lain dormant for seven years after making several of cinema’s most outrageous films, such as Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, before scoring a major critical success with 1988’s PG-rated Hairspray. Having proved his talents ran deeper than generating shocks, he got to work Trojan-horsing his anarchic, outsider, fuck-you ethos into a new musical rom-com that would have teenage girls all over the country swooning to Depp’s sensitive delinquent and his band of rowdy proto-punks. It’s no coincidence that Iggy Pop appears as the father figure to the rockabilly redneck crew. Cry-Baby’s suggestive hip swivels are the forebears to Pop’s bleeding, vomiting on-stage antics. Waters’ message is not a particularly complex one. He wants to let you know that living by the rules is lame even if it makes you popular and that finding your place among the oddballs and keeping your middle finger always at the ready is the only way to go, even if it’s dangerous. But Waters and Depp both commit with abandon and sincerity. Unlike Depp’s more recent performances, where you can always detect the actor behind the character, the only thing you can see in Cry-Baby Walker is the fierce passion burning in his eyes, even when they’re producing a solitary tear.