Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Peggy Sue Got Married: A Post Adolesence Film Review

Yes, THAT one. Peggy Sue Got Married, the 1986 film starring Kathleen Turner and Nicholas Cage, played a very pivotal role in my childhood. It belongs to that canon of HBO repeats that subbed as a babysitter for my sister and I during our 80s childhood in suburban Louisiana. For the curious, other titles in that category include, but are not limited to: Quarterback Princess, Weird Science, Weekend at Bernies, Arthur, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, Heathers, Dirty know, all movies that are highly inappropriate for children but readily available through Home Box Office several times a day for several consecutive days? Those.

However, Peggy Sue Got Married ended up being a veritable cave for the mining of jokes that never die between my sister and I. For giggles, I recently rented a copy of the DVD just to experience this film as an adult which, if you haven't done this in awhile with a movie you used to love you should definitely consider. Below are some random impressions/questions I have about the film that have arisen from this re-viewing as an old ass woman. I realize the term post adolescence refers to a specific time in one's life, however it does literally apply here since I am way, way post adolescence.

For those who have not seen this here's a brief synopsis I stole from wikipedia:

Peggy Sue Got Married is a 1986 American comedy-drama film directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Kathleen Turner as a woman on the verge of a divorce, who finds herself transported back to the days of her senior year in high school. The film was written by husband and wife team Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner.

First, this movie was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. This is not something I even knew until just this very second when I was researching it and I would never in a zillion years would have guessed that he was the one who directed it. To be fair, I am not that intimately familiar with Coppola's films aside from the Godfather films and The Outsiders. Though now it totally makes sense that Sofia Coppola has a small but memorable role in this as Peggy Sue's little sister. It is a bit crazy to me that the little girl who is mooning over Fabian in the film is the same woman who went on to direct Lost in Translation. In fact, this might be a good time to point out that there are SO MANY familiar faces in this film that were pretty much unknown at the time: Helen Hunt, Jim Carrey, Joan Allen, etc. Seeing this film now, after these actors in particular have become so famous and so associated in my mind with other projects added a bizarrely kitschy aspect to the movie, probably one that wasn't there before.

Anyway, one of the first things I notice immediately is the silver foil looking dress that Peggy Sue wears to her high school reunion. I say silver foil only because it is constructed from silver foil:

I remember when I was a 10 year old watching this thinking that it was the most beautiful dress ever and that I wanted one just like it for when I eventually went to prom. Ok, a) I did not go to prom, thank the lord and b) it is one of the most hideous dresses I have ever seen. The reunion is presented as her 25th. Why on earth would a 43 year old woman still have this dress, much less wear it to her reunion? We are clearly meant to like/sympathize with Peggy Sue but watching this as an adult makes me think Peggy Sue is loopy and weird. In fact, she annoyed me the entire movie when, again as a 10 year old, I admired and sympathized with her.

Anyway, at her reunion, she meets up with her old high school friends, two of whom are still a happily married couple. Half of this couple is Joan Allen and she looks and dresses like she is 80 years old. In fact, in the picture above, you can see her behind and to the left of Peggy Sue. I know it was the 80s but even 43 year old women in the 80s didn't dress like grandmas, no matter how long they had been married for and as an adult, I found that a bit silly. Her other two friends (one of whom is Jim Carrey), previously a couple in high school but for reasons unexplained broke up before they reached adulthood quickly reconnect at the reunion. These two clearly belonged together. We know this because about 10 minutes into the reunion, they are seen in a bathroom snorting cocaine. I cannot reach that far back into my memory to understand how my 10 year old brain processed what was happening in that scene apart from wondering why they needed to use a credit card for the white powder.

The reunion is a bittersweet even for our heroine because, as is established in the opening scene, she is going through a painful divorce from her husband of 25 years, played by Nicholas Cage. Again, it makes a bit of sense that he's in this, considering his relation to Coppola because watching this as an adult, I don't understand why he was cast in this. He spends the majority of the film doing what I can only assume was his best Casey Kasem impersonation. However, at the same time, I am thrilled that he is in this movie for the simple reason that my sister and I have been trading his lines, in his inflection, for the better part of 27 years. Sometimes we'll be hanging out and one of us will spontaneously go "you mean my whaaang?" and then erupt into laughter. Some of that might be residual "we weren't supposed to watch that as young kids b/c of the inappropriate sexual humor" giggling but I love it nonetheless. He also sings Doo Wop in this movie which I often get a kick out of. So yes, anyway, Nicholas Cage shows up to the reunion, to the chagrin of Peggy Sue and her Reynolds Wrap dress. Oh and also, her daughter is with her. Why? I have no idea.

In need of a date to the reunion, she brings her daughter. I told you she was weird.

So a bunch of old people stuff happens, including the "smart guy" of the class approaching Peggy Sue. He's another of her classmates that is only in his 40s, if we are doing the chronology correctly but looks like he's 70. I can only think that in the 80s, people just looked older. I mean as a kid I watched the Golden Girls, thinking they were soooo old. Meanwhile, they were in their 60s. Yeah, ok. My mom is 60. This is what she looks like:

I digress.

So she gets reelected prom queen (again, this doesn't, nor should it happen at high school reunions because grow the fuck up already, you are 43) and for some reason she faints. It isn't made clear why she faints. Nor is it made clear why fainting has transported her back in time 25 years to when she was a senior in high school. 10 year old me: that's so cool and believable. (Side note: the dress she wears is the same, only now instead of foil, it is grey.) In fact the entire film seems to be full of people dressed in pastel yellow and grey. There is a veneer of pastel over the entire film. I'm going to have to again chalk this up to it being the 80s. 10 year old me: that's so cool and believable.

This film was also apparently the precursor to that quintessential 90s phenomenon of casting much older actors to play teenagers. In this case, all the same actors from the reunion are meant to be 18 year olds. So the ones that easily passed for 60 and 70 year olds are meant to be high schoolers. Sure.

So Peggy is understandably weirded out and the audience is taken on a whirlwind tour of a small town where the cars, clothes, hairstyles, music, attitudes and scream 1960. 10 year old me: I wish I had lived in the 60s. How could I have known then the world that Mad Men would show me? How? Hold me.

So yeah anyway, there are a lot of jokes that heavily appeal to baby boomers, the obvious target audience of this film (something about red dye #5 and the Edsel). Peggy gets to see her parents who we presume are dead in the present time because you know, 40 year olds are so fucking old that all of their parents have been dead for a century already! Peggy seems to accept her circumstance pretty quickly and we are left not really understanding if she has actually time traveled or if she is dreaming.

Along the way she sees her now ex husband for what he was back then: a dreamer who wanted to make a serious career out of singing Doo Wop. Her friends all seem to be airheads. She runs into the resident beatnik who I shall have to take a break here to discuss. Michael Fitzsimmons, resident beatnik.

Even at 10 years old, I knew he was my kind of guy. The first time we see him, he's arguing the prominence of Hemingway as a "classic" author, preferring the "fire" of Jack Kerouac. He says the following:

 A writer's life is his work. Jack Kerouac doesn't have to kill a bull to have something to write about. I mean, man, he's out there burning, feeling, grooving on life.

 This character is why I first heard the name Jack Kerouac or found out what a beatnik was. He's wearing a black turtleneck amidst the pastel crowd. I remember thinking: and you are? I have this film and this character to thank for the following line, another one my sister and I have bandied about from time to time:

"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!" 

Naturally Peggy sleeps with him; I mean, she's 43 and this was the only remotely interesting guy in her high school. I would have, too. This character is also the one that introduced me to Yeats. He quotes Yeats in order to seduce Peggy.

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face; 

The context he says it in was cheesy but again, 10 year old me: what was THAT?? So hell yeah,
Michael Fitzsimmons.

 If anyone is still reading this far, I shall reward you by ending it. So Peggy goes through "emotions" and decides to leave Nicholas Cage with surprising ease, considering her two children wouldn't have been born if she didn't stay. She visits her grandparents and her grandfather takes her to a Freemasons meeting where they are for some reason, according to 10 year old me, going to sacrifice her to their god. But suddenly lightning strikes and she wakes up in a hospital bed in the 80s and a whole bunch of things seem to indicate that she did in, in fact, time travel even though she was asleep at the hospital (?) Also, she and her husband are going to try to work things out, even though she really did want to erase their history when she had the opportunity. If she actually did have the opportunity and it wasn't all just a dream. Yeah, not really clear about that. 10 year old me: that's so cool and believable.

Anyway, the moral of this film, my rewatching it and any and all residual takeaways is this: you can't change the past (no matter how much better it would have been to bang the beatnik), 10 year olds should not watch films that have drug use and sexual innuendo, no matter how pretty the pastels are and I secretly love the crap out of Peggy Sue Got Married.


  1. I think I need to watch this again. I know what you mean about all those HBO movies that we'd watch over and over,and how inappropriate for kids a lot of them were. I mean, how many times did I see porky's? OMG, the shame. I want to see Peggy Sue again though!

    1. You need to see this again Marie! And I am guilty of seeing Porky's. Why the hell did that movie have so many sequels??

  2. Peggy Sue's daughter went to the reunion because her boyfriend was in the band. Peggy Sue "fainted" due to some sort of heart disorder. Keep up! ;-) I love this film & never tire of watching it! : )

    1. Well now I'm concerned about Peggy's heart disorder as well as her state of mind!

  3. I have read your blog it is very helpful for me. I want to say thanks to you.

  4. Look at the movie again with the thought that Peggy Sue going back in time is only a dream. Almost everyone in the past wears shades of gray and that just didn't happen. That mylar balloon she sees as she's leaving the blood drive? They hadn't been invented in 1960. It was all just a dream.

    1. But why was the book written by Richard Norvik dedicated to her in the future when if it was just a dream, they never would have hung out or met?