Second Viewing: Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

How time flies! Peggy Sue Got Married was released in 1986, twenty-six years ago! Moreover, in the movie Peggy Sue (played by Kathleen Turner) is attending her high school class’s 25th anniversary, which means she was portraying a 43-year-old woman. Fortunately, Turner is only a couple of years older than I am (she was born in 1954) which explains why Turner looks so fabulous in the movie. If you squint your eyes, she can sort of pass for eighteen.

1986 was a long time ago. I remember it as the year of the Challenger disaster, but it was so long ago that Jim Carrey (playing Walter Getz) was largely unknown and Nicholas Cage (who plays her ex Charlie Bodell) was just starting to get good parts. Kathleen Turner herself was also gaining traction as an actress, having made a name for herself in the steamy (literally and figuratively) movie Body Heat (1981).

Peggy Sue, of course, is the ex class prom queen, a leggy All American girl who at the start of the movie is crushed by the infidelity of her husband Charlie. She is so crushed that she has not put herself back on the market. The class reunion is untimely, but she still fits into her 1960-style silver prom dress. The reunion, not unexpectedly, makes her confront her past. She regrets going steady and marrying Charlie, who still makes a name for himself locally by selling appliances in shrill local TV commercials. Charlie is not supposed to be at the reunion but his presence along with her unwillingly being crowned Queen of the reunion is more than her fragile state can handle. She faints on stage and this is where the science fiction begins.

No aliens or spaceships appear, but Peggy Sue finds herself back in 1960 in her high school, but with her 43-year old memories intact. And it sure seems real enough. It is overwhelmingly nostalgic for a while, but her middle-aged brain also allows her to cut through the fog of her adolescent feelings and see things as they were. Moving twenty five years back in the time stream also helps her come confront so many issues buried in her past, including unrealized infatuations with Michael Fitzsimmons (Kevin O’Connor), something of a class bad boy, into poetry, living life passionately and smoking reefers. Also appreciated with new eyes is the class nerd, Richard Norvik (Barry Miller), crowned king of the reunion because of his multi-millionaire status.

This movie is at once fun and painful, poignant and slightly irritating. Most of us would love to travel back in time to a pivotal time in our lives, but it’s a mixed bag for the emotionally fragile Peggy Sue. Her mother is more plastic than real, Charlie is dopily devoted to her but immature, and the girls she hung around with back then mostly annoying and superficial teenyboppers. The pressure of being a middle age woman in a teen’s body eventually becomes too much not to share, so she confides her situation to Richard Norvik. He is, to say the least, is surprised by her attention, but takes her seriously and helps her think through her situation. In return, Peggy Sue gives him intelligence on how to apply his brain to great fortune. Mostly though she struggles with her feelings for Charlie, knowing that he will eventually betray her. Peggy Sue may be twenty-five years in her past, but she is riding a powerful emotional roller coaster. Her forty-something perspective though often proves useful in providing self-analysis of her situation.

Francis Ford Coppola, who also cast his daughter Sofia as Peggy Sue’s younger sister Nancy, directs the movie. This science fiction frame is actually a just a fun device to allow Peggy Sue wallow in then sort of resolve her powerful feelings. Coppola does a great job of rendering both past and present, and the acting is largely well done as well. The plot is also hard to resist. Who cannot have feelings, either positive or negative, for the class prom queen?

While the movie is engaging, ultimately it does not mean very much, unless you are content to just sort through in Peggy Sue’s complex feelings with her (mostly a chick thing, I assume), enjoy some cinematic nostalgia for a time long past, or want to ponder what your feelings might be if you could wind the past back twenty five years. The movie is not so much fun as it is bittersweet, with its attempt to pull at your heartstrings perhaps a bit overdone.

Peggy Sue Got Married is certainly not a bad movie, nor a great movie, but it is a movie worth seeing once. Having seen it twice, I realize I had tuned out some of the movie’s minor flaws. Had I remembered them I likely would have given seeing it again a pass.

3.1 on my four-point scale.

[xrr rating=3.1/4]

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