Cry-Baby (1990)

Cover of Cry-Baby DVD

Cry Baby (1990)
Directed By John Waters

Up next in my year long tribute to Depp’s acting career is a review of his first movie role post-Jump Street. This time out Depp teamed up with a fellow outsider, director John Waters to make Cry-Baby a campy, musical send up 1950s juvenile delinquent films like Rebel Without a Cause (55), Jailhouse Rock (57), The Wild One (53), The Restless Years (58), and Live Fast, Die Young (58). In it Depp starts as Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker, a teenage ‘greaser’ complete with slicked back pompadour, leather jacket and white t-shirt.

Set in Waters home town of Baltimore, the ‘drapes’ are at odds with the middle-class ‘squares’ and their socially acceptable lifestyle. Despite his bad boy looks and outsider attitude Cry-Baby and his gang of misfits are essentially good kids at heart. At the centre of this class war is a star-crossed love story between Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane) and Cry-Baby (Johnny Depp).

Cry-Baby Ensemble Cast

Cry-Baby Gang – Milton Hackett (Darren E. Burrows), Wade ‘Cry-Baby’ Walker (Johnny Depp), Mona ‘Hatchet-Face’ Malnorowski (Kim McGuire), Pepper Walker (Ricki Lake), and Wanda Woodward (Traci Lords)

Among Waters impressive ensemble cast are Iggy Pop, Susan Tyrell, Polly Bergen, Traci Lords, Ricki Lake, Darren E. Burrows, and Kim McGuire.

Allison is being raised by her socialite grandmother Mrs. Vernon-Williams (Polly Bergen) who runs the charm school and who has everything to lose socially by having her granddaughter involved with Cry-Baby and his low class of characters. Allison’s boyfriend Baldwin is happy to stir up anger against the drapes, antagonizing Cry-Baby at every opportunity and leading a party of squares on a raid of the drapes home turf – Turkey Point.   The raid ends up with the drapes being rounded up despite being the victims and dragged before the court. Hijinks ensue as people plot to break Cry-Baby out of jail. In the end the lovers are reunited.

Johnny Depp and Amy Locane as Star Crossed Lovers in Cry-Baby

Johnny Depp and Amy Locane as Star Crossed Lovers in Cry-Baby

Ironically Cry-Baby was Waters’ acceptance by the very Hollywood machine Depp was attempting to distance himself from. After scoring a moderate success with Hair Spray (1988) (the first incarnation not the 2007 version), Waters succeeded in getting green lighted for a Hollywood production and a modest budget that was several times larger than anything Waters had worked with up until that point. Depp was looking to break away from his teen-idol image that he had earned working on 21 Jump Street.

Cry-Baby is the first role in which we can see Depp’s process as an actor beginning to shine through. He immerses himself in the role and convincingly alternates between threatening bad boy and sensitive and misunderstood outsider. One of Depp’s trademarks as an actor is taking inspiration from other well established figures and making them his own. Whether they are real people  or other fictional characters, his knack for choosing the right combination of characteristics from these figures is what makes Depp’s characters interesting. In the case of Cry-Baby Walker, Depp admits in It Came From Baltimore documentary that he took inspiration from his father – a real life Greaser, rockabilly pioneers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, and finally a young Elvis.

Cry-Baby with Match

Come On Baby Let Me Light Your Fire


Although Waters chose to go with professional singers to dub both Locane and Depp’s musical numbers the lip-syncing is barely noticeable and does not distract from the film in the least. In the It Came From Baltimore documentary available on the Directors cut DVD, Depp confesses that he can’t dance and actually hates it. He admits that it was only with the help of the cast and choreographer he was able to get through the dance scenes.

Cry-Baby was one Depp’s films that I hadn’t experienced before. Although it took me a bit to get into it, the movie turned out to be a fun, ride, with some great campy performances and cheesy musical numbers that I think would best experienced with a group of people and some copious amounts of alcohol.

The film helped open a number of doors to Depp including our next film up for review Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.

21 Jump Street (1987-1991)

Do you know the way to Jump Street?

Do you know the way to Jump Street?

When I started this journey of reviewing Johnny Depp’s acting career I said I was going to stick to his films, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t ignore his stint on the late 80s teen cop show 21 Jump Street.

The show is central to Depp’s development as an actor for any number of reasons. For starters it was the vehicle that exposed him to reach a larger audience. Secondly, it solidified his resolve not to become, in his words, a ‘product’ to be manipulated by others. Finally, it was a great opportunity to showcase his chameleon-like abilities as an actor.

Set in an unnamed Washington town, 21 Jump Street follows Detective Tom Hanson (Johnny Depp) as a baby-faced rookie patrolman that isn’t taken seriously by his fellow cops or criminals. Recognizing his passion and talent for police work Hanson is reassigned to work with a secret undercover unit operating out of an abandon church located at, you guessed it, 21 Jump Street.

21 Jump Street came at time when a crop of long running and successful cop/detective dramas of the day either had just ended or were in their final few seasons: Hill Street Blues (1981-87), Cagney and Lacey (1981-88), Magnum P.I. (1980-88), T.J. Hooker (1982-86), Simon & Simon (1981-89), and Remington Steele (1982-87). While many of those series were critically acclaimed and reached broad audiences, none of them connected with the ‘kids’ of the day in a way that Jump Street did. Sure we all wanted to be Magnum and drive a Ferrari, but growing up in the 80s teens rarely saw themselves or their culture reflected in the TV drama of the time, unless you count preachy ABC Afterschool Specials.

Enter upstart FOX Broadcasting that was determined to launch an edgy fresh network to take on the big three (NBC, ABC, and CBS). Starting in 1987, Fox was only broadcasting two nights a week – Saturday & Sunday – and while there many forgettable shows launched during that first season (anyone remember Matthew Perry’s debut series – Second Chance?), it launched successful shows as 21 Jump Street, Married… With Children, and the Tracey Ullman Show, which would in turn spawn The Simpsons. 21 Jump Street was co-created by Stephen J. Cannell, no stranger to the police procedural with over 40 TV series to his credit, including Rockford Files, Baretta, and Tenspeed & Brownshoe, to name a few.

Office Tom Hanson - Freeze Punk!

Office Tom Hanson – Freeze Punk!

 

Tom Hanson transformed.

Tom Hanson transformed.

The pilot for Jump Street is slow to get going, following Hanson on patrol with a senior partner (Barney Martin) and setting up his back story about his passion for the job and desire to follow in his deceased father’s footsteps. Depp’s ability to switch between clean-cut boy next door and bad boy hunk convincingly is put to good use in the pilot as the Hanson’s new boss, hippie Captain Richard Jenko (Frederic Forrest), and his youthful crew makeover the square detective with the ‘Jack Kennedy haircut’ into something more contemporary. While Hanson looks at home in his leather jacket, jeans, and 80s version of the pompadour, he reverts to argyle sweater vests and khakis the moment he’s off duty.

The plot of the pilot is fairly inconsequential, revolving around saving some rich-boy white teen who is in over his head mixed up with a black thug named Tyrell ‘Waxer’ Thompson who drives a Ferrari to school. When not playing on stereotypes, the pilot does a good job building on the relationships between Depp and his new undercover partners Harry Truman Ioki (Dustin Nguyen), Doug Penhall (Peter Deluise), Judy Hoffs (Holly Robinson Pete). Depp and his cast-mates do a decent job of carrying the story and are believable as teens in their undercover roles although we don’t get a chance to see Ioki or Hoffs in their high school settings this episode.

Deluise, Nguyen, and Depp bonding over car repairs.

Deluise, Nguyen, and Depp bonding over car repairs.

Filmed around Vancouver, Canada, license plates featuring Britsh Columbia logo are visible, the Gastown Steam Clock is prominently shown in another scene, and in a climatic chase scene Waxer and Hanson are shown running through the New Westminster Sky Train station. I am sure someone more familiar with the city could probably point out a dozen more landmarks in the pilot.

While 21 Jump Street brought Depp to a larger audience and turned him into a teen idol, it also strengthened his resolve to do his own thing. Quitting the series after the fourth season in 1990, Depp went on to take two movie roles to avoid being typecast as a teen idol – John Water’s Cry-Baby and Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. Next week we begin with a look at the first of those two films – Cry-Baby.