A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cry-Baby is a 1990 John Waters film that is both a campy celebration and a hilarious parody of the 1950s. In the midst of the overwrought battles between the "Squares" and the "Drapes" (the nickname for the "juvenile delinquents" running amok around Baltimore), there is some over-the-top fighting with fists and baseball bats, and the Drape women make constant reference to their breasts, either through gestures or through calling them "bazooms." Characters are shown smoking cigarettes. While in a car, a teenage girl drinks from a flask and offers some "hooch" to the driver, who turns it down because he's driving. There is one use of "f--k" and some other mild profanity. Although the film's parodying of 1950s "juvenile delinquent" movies, societal conformity, and sexual repression will be lost on younger viewers, for older kids and parents Cry-Baby is an enjoyable and hilarious introduction to John Waters' movies.
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What's the story?
It's 1954 in Baltimore, Maryland. Cry-Baby (Johnny Depp) is a rock-and-roll singer and leader of the Drapes, a gang of high school hoodlums. Allison is a young singer of wholesome pop songs who's dating the leader of the Squares, a group of teens beloved by the community for their wholesome attitudes. During an inoculation at their high school, Cry-Baby and Allison see each other for the first time. Cry-Baby immediately falls in love, and Allison is consumed with a burning desire to be "bad." On his motorcycle, Cry-Baby takes Allison to the local rock-and-roll shack on the outskirts of town, where they sing a duet together, and Cry-Baby teaches Allison how to French kiss. But the Squares aren't prepared to give up sweet Allison so easily. They show up to the rock-and-roll hangout, and a brawl ensues, culminating in the burning of Cry-Baby's motorcycle and Cry-Baby going to jail. Cry-Baby must find a way out of jail and prove his innocence, and he must prove to Allison that, despite of his bad-boy image, he has a heart of gold.
Is it any good?
Both a send-up and a celebration of 1950s cool and corniness, CRY-BABY is a hilarious parody of overwrought films from that era, mixed in with a healthy dose of campy musical numbers. The melodramatic dialogue is consistently hilarious, and so are the performances of the archetypal stock characters, with performances by everyone from Patty Hearst and Iggy Pop to Ricki Lake and Susan Tyrrell.
For those looking to ease into the oeuvre of John Waters, Cry-Baby is one of the better movies with which to start. There's still plenty of the subversive humor of his earlier movies, only with a much larger budget. It's an entertaining look at a time when squares ruled the world and it took so much less effort to really upset the established order.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about satire. How does this movie satirize the culture of the 1950s?
Would you consider this movie to be a musical? If so, how is it similar to and different from other musicals?
In what ways did this movie seem like a somewhat realistic portrayal of life in the 1950s in spite of its exaggerated depictions and presentations?
- In theaters: April 6, 1990
- On DVD or streaming: July 12, 2005
- Cast: Johnny Depp, Ricki Lake, Susan Tyrell
- Director: John Waters
- Studio: Universal Studios
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Friendship, High School, History, Misfits and Underdogs, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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