Guest Blog: Film Studies the Musical

I love musicals.

I’ve loved musicals for as long as I can remember, probably since the days of High School Musical as a doe-eyed 11-year-old, taking over some poor teacher’s classroom during lunch to practice the dances with some school friends over and over again.

From The Greatest Showman to Singin’ in the Rain, film musicals are I think are severely underappreciated. So, getting the opportunity to explore Cult Musicals was something I immediately jumped at.

I had no clue what I was getting into with our first film, Cry Baby. A John Walters musical released in 1990 starring Johnny Depp and Amy Locane, the opening scenes led me on to think this was just another Grease or Hairspray.

I was so very wrong.

Cry Baby is what I’d call a parody of parodies. Following the romantic story of Wade ‘Cry-Baby’ Walker and Allison, two high school teenagers from the opposite ends of the social clique, I was expecting Grease 2.0.

It was not.

Once I’d got over the exaggerated character archetypes, I started to really appreciate the commentary that is only handed well with Satire.

Satire lends itself to commentary on the world and on issues, social and political. The exaggeration of certain elements (such as characters) makes it easier to highlight specific areas that invite further scrutiny. Because musicals tend to be very self-aware (it’s hard to be subtle when you stop in your tracks to belt out a song), they are an extremely effective genre when it comes to bringing commentary on world issues.

So, while Cry Baby took some getting used to, it stuck to its guns in terms of its commentary on class, on systemic prejudice, and to a degree, on the musical genre itself. For being a satire, though, I think it’s because it leant too much into the genre.

Musicals are classically known for their romances, so those looking for it in Cry Baby would wonder why they felt patronised by the film. But those who were expecting more subversion (expected with John Walters) were disappointed by the ending which was a little too clean cut to make any mark on its overall message. I couldn’t decide which park I sat in, which unfortunately makes the film a little forgettable, as its release proved.

Overall, Musicals can be vastly misjudged, and Cry Baby ends up being an excellent example of why.

- Elena, Sheffield Hallam

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