Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★
It is Buchanan High School’s twenty-fifth reunion and Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) requires convincing to attend. Having just split with her husband, Charlie (Nicolas Cage), she fears that he, too, will be there, since they were high school sweethearts, and her night will be ruined. Upon the insistence of her daughter (Helen Hunt), Peggy Sue decides to go eventually. After catching up with some friends and acquaintances, she is crowned the queen. Once she gets on stage, however, her vision dims and her body collapses. When she wakes, she finds herself in a blood drive of her high school gymnasium: somehow she managed to travel to the past.
“Peggy Sue Got Married,” written by Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner, is the ultimate wish fulfillment: a person going back to the past and having another chance to alter the course of her life given the fact that she retains the knowledge of the decisions that turned her life for the worse. The plot, though largely a fantasy which can be easily dismissed as silly, is executed with such elegance and eye for detail that we cannot help but buy into the reality of what we are seeing.
The most beautiful thing about the picture is that it creates a sense of wonder and feelings of discovery without relying on special or visual effects. When Peggy Sue, as a sixteen-year-old, gets a second chance to visit her old house and see the people who have long been gone, I could not helped but feel touched. I started to think that one day I will have to deal with the fact that my parents will no longer be there for support and the close friends I have come to know may be reduced to mere acquaintances. Maybe I will even look at the home I live in now—but only from the outside because another family will have moved in.
As Peggy Sue appreciates the house and people she thought she would never see again, the camera is patient but energetic. We are welcomed to feel the magic she is experiencing. Turner succeeds in being the conduit between what is going on and relating her character’s emotions to the audience. She does an amazing job in communicating so much with so little. For instance, the manner in which her fingers glide along a particular object or the way she tilts her head just so as to suggest that something new has captured her attention and she yearns to interact with it.
Even though we know that the actors playing seventeen- or eighteen-year-olds are past twenty or twenty-five, it does not take away what is there to be enjoyed. The script has an ear for dialogue so the verbal exchanges do not sound phony or trying too hard to establish a 1960 milieu. Although the time travel element drives the plot forward, the focus is on the relationships and Peggy Sue attempting to determine what went wrong and make the appropriate changes that she thinks she needs to make so she can live a life with less pain.
There is something to like about all of the characters. This is note-worthy because in a lot of movies that take place in a high school, someone has to be a villain. In here, even Charlie, the guy that cheated on Peggy Sue when they were married, is given the opportunity to be understood. We discover why the protagonist has fallen in love with him and also why it is hard for her get over him. Their love for one another is given complexity. Peggy Sue’s relationship, whether it be a friendship or a fling with other guys (Kevin J. O’Connor, Barry Miller) is given genuine comedy and drama, too.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, “Peggy Sue Got Married” poses some questions worth thinking about underneath its initially fluffy exterior. It does not run out of wit, warmth, and intelligence—yes, even cheese—which makes it more than a nostalgia trip: it is a delight.