Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
September 24, 2023 10:48 PM - Subscribe

Peggy Sue faints at a high school reunion. When she wakes up, she finds herself in her own past, just before she finished school.

Peggy Sue Bodell (Kathleen Turner) attends her 25-year high school reunion after separating from her cheating husband, Charlie (Nicolas Cage). She regrets the decisions she has made in her life, such as getting pregnant by Charlie in high school. When she faints at the reunion, she awakens in 1960. Given the chance to relive her life, she changes many things. However, some choices are more complicated, as she begins to see young Charlie's charm and true feelings.

Rita Kempley
: And there's the young-again Peggy Sue, newly appreciative, as she belts out, "My country 'tis of thee . . ." Her half-hearted classmates worry that she's lost her mind. It is a powerful little comic moment, packed with pathos and rediscovery. And that's what the movie does best -- it puts memories into time capsules. If we open wide and swallow, we'll feel younger for 24 hours. (We're not getting older, just more nostalgic.)

The script is an airy confection by screenwriters Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner, who cross chronologies cleverly in the dialogue. Peggy Sue, angered by Charlie's future philandering, takes up with the class beatnik. The hurting hero confronts her, "When I think of you going out with other guys, I feel . . ." Words escape him. "Rejected, miserable," she suggests. "Yeah," he says. "Good," she says.

What mars the movie, aside from the po/key opening and overused theme, is an icky performance by Nicholas Cage as Charlie. He calls it surreal, "a type of cartoon acting." Well, he does kind of remind you of Jughead. And what is with his malted-milk falsetto that turns, as Charlie ages, into a squeaky alto, like Mickey Mouse with swollen glands? Cage, son of August Coppola, has also appeared in Coppola's "The Cotton Club" and "Rumble Fish." Perhaps nepotism, like time, is relative.

Sheila Benson: It’s in that real sentiment and the film’s poignant questioning of love and loyalties that “Peggy Sue” leaves “Back to the Future” in the starting blocks. How does it feel to be able to see your grandmother again; to notice how young your mother was? And in case we’ve let the attitudes of the ‘60s slip into a pleasant mush of memory, Coppola reminds us: good girls/bad girls; the sacrosanct Saturday night date; Dad as the unquestioned head of the family and Mom at home in the kitchen; and “I’ll respect you for all eternity.” (Or until the next morning, whichever came sooner.)

The acting is grand. Turner, in between her character’s two ages, bites into the role with a bravura that makes us want to forget the differences and be carried by her own, wild-eyed wonder at her predicament. And her rush of feeling (as she visits her grandparents, Leon Ames, Maureen O’Sullivan) is contagious.

Cage’s attack is dangerous, but it works. Pompadoured and “smooth,” using a voice that still sometimes betrays him, he makes teen-aged Charlie a hyperkinetic cartoon of the most popular boy in class, “I’ve got the hair! I’ve got the teeth! I’ve got the eyes. . . . I’m the man! “ You can find that boy in the madman who does his own TV ads, and you can find in both the reason that Peggy Sue is angry and rueful and in love, all at once.

Kathi Maio: In a similar light, consider Peggy Sue Got Married. Here as grown woman (with much more wisdom and experience than young Marty) is totally unable to change even the course of her own life. The decision she makes isn't even an active one. She doesn't say, "My two children are so precious to me that I wouldn't want to miss the chance to be their mother." Or even, "It's worth it to stay with Charlie because it was so wonderful at the beginning." In her final scene in 1960, Peggy confronts her destiny, Charlie, om a storm-battered greenhouse and cries out that she "cant' change anything" or "save anyone" (even herself). As fate decreed the first time around, she falls into his arms for their first sexual encounter - which, we know, will impregnate her and force her and Charlie to marry as soon as they finish high school. What a sad statement about a woman's powerlessness it all is - all the sadder because, I suspect, the filmmakers don't see it as tragic. Peggy Sue is not only powerless against the past but is also, apparently, powerless to control her future. At the movie's close there is every indication that she will take Charlie back as her husband.

. . .

And it is after all, a golden, sweet picture about coming to terms with the past, with lovely performances by Kathleen Turner and a wonderful cast. Even if it falls apart a bit at the end, it is basically a well-crafted and entertaining film. But I cannot help but be distressed by teh fact that, in a world of happy and successful male time-travelers, the
female time-traveler is passive in and little enriched by her re-exploration of the past. Perhaps this is Coppola's attempt to bring the existential reality to the time-warp comedy. If so, I can only say that I wish he had left it out of this particular movie. Peggy Sue Got Married present the kind of reality we women have seen too much already.

posted by Carillon (10 comments total)
This was fun! I really did like the Kathi Maio review, but I think she misses on Cage's performance. He was quite good here, and you don't fall in love with him, but I think he helps you understand why Peggy does. Coming at this in 2023 I don't have to compare it directly against Back to the Future as most of the contemporary reviewers do, but it's a film I dislike and I think this helps cast in relief why. I really do wonder what different endings might have looked like, and would I think have loved to see Penny Marshall direct, because it does fall apart at the end, in ways that are believable, and poignant, but man it hits a double when with a bit more perspective, it could have been a home run.
posted by Carillon at 10:53 PM on September 24, 2023

I know all the reasons why people dislike the film, but it remains a favorite of my household. it's very quotable, and I love how Nicolas Cage embodies the whiny teenager who feels entitled just as he's about to take on adult responsibilities and realities.

yes, the ending is hand-waving and weak, but it also shows how strong of emotions being a parent influence a person in ways the teenager simply can't imagine.
posted by jkosmicki at 9:31 AM on September 25, 2023 [1 favorite]

This is also a favorite in our house, but for Cage's casting. It's just off the mark in terms of what he was trying to hit, in my opinion, as is. I think Maio's review isn't as forgiving as it could be with Peggy clearly using the opportunity to explore possibilities that she hadn't originally, such as pursuing the beat poet classmate. It is different from Back to the Future, but that's because the time traveler is a different person. One is someone who is going to their parents' teenage years, the other is the same person returning to her teenage years. From the get go, this is a much more different perspective, one that invites introspection.

I need to rewatch to better discuss the film, but now as I grow older and closing in toward the age of the main character, I can appreciate a lot of her own experiences in returning to those high school years. Even if just the idea of going to my grandparents' home and spending an evening with them one last time. This is a film about engaging with the past from things missed, regretted, and remembered. It's great.
posted by Atreides at 12:40 PM on September 25, 2023 [3 favorites]

She doesn't say, "My two children are so precious to me that I wouldn't want to miss the chance to be their mother."

She does say she misses her children before she falls into Charlie's arms. To me that's her choosing her old life. She also rejects the beat poet realizing raising chickens as part of a throuple is not what she wants. She absolutely has the choice to be like "Sure let's raise some chickens!" But I think that a lot of the journey in the past is about understanding that despite the cost what she wants is the life she is living.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:48 PM on September 25, 2023 [3 favorites]

Unshockingly, my mom watched this movie a lot when it come out. Makes sense, it was her childhood we're seeing here. And Cage is weird in the way that he always is. Even when he's weary, he's WEARY. You either go with it or it bugs the shit out of you.

And now thinking about time frames - one of us would have to be going back to 1997, which... almost tracks
posted by drewbage1847 at 3:30 PM on September 25, 2023 [1 favorite]

The part where she visits her grandparents is a flat out rose tinted tear jerk and yet has one of the best laughs:

Peggy Sue : Grandpa, if you had a chance to go back and do it all differently, what would you have changed?

Barney Alvorg : [adjusting himself in front of the mirror] Well, I would have taken better care of my teeth.

*For some reason, I have thought for years that it was Wilford Brimley who played Barney Alvorg and I was so relieved to find out it was Leon James instead. In his last film. Well, Wilford got cannonball in Cocoon, at least. When he was 49, the same age as Eminem today. Leon James's first film, on the other hand, was The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1932 where he co-starred with Bela Lugosi. From Bela Lugosi to a young Nicolas Cage -- now that's some film career.
posted by y2karl at 5:33 PM on September 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

I forgot this was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and was surprised that per IMDB the movie features Kathleen Turner's only Oscar-nominated performance.

"I'm going to check out of this bourgeois motel, push myself from the dinner table and say, 'No more Jell-o for me, mom!'"
posted by kirkaracha at 11:40 AM on September 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

The closest I've ever gotten to algebra is trying to recalculate a knitting pattern, and there's a website I use for that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:48 PM on September 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

I have a soft spot for this film in general, but this scene where Turner answers the phone and hears her grandmother’s voice still gets me every time.
posted by Mchelly at 1:12 PM on October 2, 2023 [1 favorite]

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