Home Video Hovel: Peggy Sue Got Married, by David Bax
High school movies, particularly ones that take place twenty or so years before they were released, tend to be fueled by nostalgia. Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married, out this week on Blu-ray, certainly indulges in that but ultimately, respectably rejects those superficial, rose-colored trappings in favor of the wisdom of maturity.
Kathleen Turner (Oscar-nominated for her role) plays Peggy Sue Bodell, a fortysomething woman in the process of divorcing her husband, Charlie (Nicolas Cage). The two were high school sweethearts so their impending 25 year reunion is causing Peggy Sue some stress. She decides to attend anyway but, at the height of the evening, she passes out and awakens to find that it is 1960 and she is a high school senior again.
Showing us the reunion before the time travel happens is perhaps the smartest decision screenwriters Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner made. It allows us to meet the core cast as they are in the present so that the actors, all comparable in age to Turner, can play their younger selves. It’s less jarring that Peggy Sue is obviously too old for high school when the rest of her class is similarly aged. It’s as if perhaps there was some toxic spill in the town’s water supply but at least you can write it off and move on.
What truly is jarring, though pleasantly so, is Cage’s performance. As much as the actor’s career can be mapped out in various hair styles (he gets a fun pompadour here), his early work was equally defined by the voices. His bizarre choice here to play young Charlie with a pinched, high, dopey timbre was reportedly unpopular even with Coppola himself. Yet, somehow, it works both by reminding us that the coolest kid in high school is still a high school kid and by being really funny.
Peggy Sue’s other two Oscar nominations were for costume design and cinematography. It’s in these visual elements that Coppola really lets his auteur flag fly. The colors are all bright yet appear to be seen through a haze, underlining the possibility that this is all happening in Peggy Sue’s dreams. However, Coppola also seeks to suggest that this is real, highlighting the otherworldly, science fiction aspects of the story. In one nighttime scene, the light atop the Masonic Lodge is so bright, it could easily be mistaken for a UFO.
Whether dream or science fiction, the true intentions of Peggy Sue Got Married are decidedly anchored in sober reality. Life may not have turned out for most of us the way we thought it would in high school. But that’s because we were in high school and didn’t know anything. The decades to come might not be quite so romantic but they are more rewarding than we could have imagined.