Netflix Instant Review: Cry-Baby

18 Jun

I am a pretty decent John Waters fan.  I say “decent” as opposed to “avid” since I haven’t seen all of his movies.  I do count Female Trouble, however, as one of my all-time favorite films and have seen it dozens of times.  I’d also need two hands to count the number of times I’ve seen Pink Flamingos.  I can’t describe how ecstatic I was when, at twenty, I discovered that the shitty video store across the street from me had the (still) out-of-print Multiple Maniacs.

I am also not a huge fan of his later works.  I mean, who hasn’t seen and loved Hairspray and Serial Mom, but they are completely different beasts from anything he made pre-1980’s.  I’m starting to sound like a pretentious asshole, so I’ll stop here.  What I’m trying to say is that I went into watching Cry-Baby, which I had only seen snippets of, with mildly hopeful expectations.  I expected that it would be better than most movies in the world, but not the John Waters that I really, truly crave.

And I got that, but I got something really unexpected as well.  I feel like I came out of it with a better understanding of what ties all of John Waters’ movies together.  John Waters is, I think, wrongly perceived by a lot of people as coming from a pure shock standpoint.  I guess when you make your star eat dog shit and film a close-up of an asshole opening and closing over and over again, that’s sort of to be expected.  But there’s something else deep and pretty fundamental going on with his earlier films; one comes away from his films with a deep disquiet far more satisfying than you’ll get from any old shock or 70s exploitation film.

And Cry-Baby left me with that feeling.  Mostly, it was a really fun musical with an orphanage scene to-die-for and a cute baby cradle made out of bones.  But there was one, solitary, deeply unsettling piece of the puzzle: the character Hatchet-Face (who sort of brings to mind Aunt Ida in Female Trouble).

And it wasn’t her that was unsettling.  What was unsettling, I realized later, was that her boyfriend in the movie is dedicated, sweet to her, and really quite handsome.  But why the fuck should that bother me?  Think of the number of TV shows, movies, or storylines (Beauty and the Beast?) that revolve around the notion that it’s not only acceptable, but pretty damn normal for a woman to date a far less attractive man.

So this is when I realized why John Waters’ shit is so unsettling.  He plays the same concept over and over again: presenting a scenario that is exactly backwards to totally arbitrary mainstream notions about things.   Aunt Ida begging her nephew, Gator, to be gay because “The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life.”  Casting a drag queen as his femme fatale in most of his earliest movies.  Obese ladies in sexy clothing.  Pairing a hatchet-face with a hot dude.  Sure, there’s gonna be some bone cribs, some soulless heroin dealers and some incest thrown in for good measure, but that’s not really the stuff that gets you.  The stuff that gets you is sneakier than that.  The stuff that gets you is the stuff that makes you wonder why you’re unsettled at all; the stuff that makes you realize that you’re really sick in the head, too.

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