Friday 27 January 2023

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Director: Francis Coppola
Writers: Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner
Stars: Kathleen Turner,
Nicolas Cage, Barry Miller, Catherine Hicks, Don Murray, Barbara Harris, Jim Carrey, Wil Shriner, Joan Allen and Kevin J. O’Connor

Index: The First Thirty.

Here’s a film that both my better half and I thought we’d seen before, albeit a long time ago, but discovered that it was new to us. Why I have no idea, because it seems like the sort of film we’d both have watched, even if it would have been for different reasons.

At the time, it was a Kathleen Turner movie, at a point when she was a huge star and so was able to pick her roles, but before she got truly interesting in films like Serial Mom. Nowadays, I’m watching for Nicolas Cage, who is, as far as I could tell, the worst thing about the film. If I had been watching in 1986, though, and you’d asked me who would become a big star, I may well have told you Jim Carrey, even though I have never been a particular fan of his.

And, of course, it’s a Francis Coppola movie, sans his Ford middle name again. And yes, that does mean that Sofia Coppola shows up again as a younger sister. Cage has said that he had no intention of doing the movie, but his uncle asked so many times that he agreed, but only if he could be over the top. Which he is. He’s Crazy Charlie the Appliance King, the star of a set of over the top commercials for his family appliance company as an old man and also the owner of an awkwardly high voice as a young one, a voice that makes him sound like he’s on a dose of helium. He has said that he based it on Pokey in The Gumby Show. It was a Bad Idea and Kathleen Turner knew it.

He gets to play Crazy Charlie as both young and old because this is a fantasy movie, a kind of cross between Back to the Future and Big, and he’s what I guess we could call a love interest for the leading lady, who starts out dedicated to divorcing him, not only because he’s been playing around with a younger model by the name of Janet.

That leading lady is the titular Peggy Sue, who’s ditched the Bodell she’s gone by for the past quarter of a century for her maiden name of Kelcher right before attending her 25 year high school reunion with her adult daughter, played by a young Helen Hunt. It goes about as well as it could, with everyone and their dog asking her about Crazy Charlie. Her soon to be ex-husband isn’t expected to show up but he does, right before the MC announces the King and Queen of this reunion.

That means that he can look uncomfortable because Richard Norvik has taken his crown, given that he’s become a tech billionaire since high school. Of course, Peggy Sue is the Queen, which means she has to get up on stage, even though so she’s wracked with nerves that she faints right then and there.

And she wakes up in 1960, after donating to the blood drive. She remembers everything in between her old then of 1985 and the new now of 1960, but nobody else does. At the reunion, she issued a telling line: “If I knew then what I knew now, I’d do a lot of things differently.” It seems clear that we’re soon going to find out if she would.

From the very start, this is Turner’s movie. She’s excellent as Peggy Sue in both eras, even though the former has more fun as a notable anachronism than the latter. Almost about to graduate high school is supposedly the Best of Times, but Turner ably demonstrates that the confidence that comes with twenty-five more years of life is an absolute godsend, especially when you’re thrown right into an algebra test you hadn’t prepared for.

It’s this confidence that enables her to ditch Charlie quickly. He has a three year plan that they can see other people so they can, get this, “comparison shop”, and then settle down and get married because he’s devoted to her. “Why wait?” she tells him. “Why not break up now?”

And off she goes to run all the reality of her situation past Richard the science nerd and go into the night on the back of Michael’s bike. At the reunion she mentions that he was the one boy she wished she’d slept with before Charlie but he’s the one the committee couldn’t reach with an invite.

Some of this is played for laughs and I don’t just mean Cage’s helium voice. Peggy Sue tells her sister not to eat the red M&Ms, she throws down a couple of glasses of liquor, gets much drunker than she expects and grounded too, a side effect of being young she didn’t expect.

Much of the humour comes from a variety of supporting characters, though, Charlie for one but Walter Getz too. And “What Walter wants, Walter Getz” is applied to Jim Carrey’s character three years before Lethal Weapon 2 and Joe Pesci. I guess Leo Getz was referencing this film all along and I never knew.

Charlie is just wild and crazy like teenagers can be, especially ones with cars and budding singing careers. Walter is stylishly wacky but not so far as live action cartoon, which is what turned me off Carrey’s more famous roles.

The film is at its best when Turner is trying to figure out how she wants her new future to unfold, and much of that takes place opposite Mr. Helium Voice. Cage is good at being whiny but that just prompts us to root for Richard or Michael more. Sometimes it entertains, like in a hilarious scene in Charlie’s car when Peggy Sue comes on to him in double entendres and all his bombastic confidence shrivels up like a slug doused with salt. Mostly it doesn’t.

He does find some charm at points, with his best scene surely the performance at Maddy’s party of his barbershop quartet. He’s the lead and Carrey is one of the others and they all do well, enough so that the girls collapsing in joy watching them is believable. Mostly, though, this is a decent film despite him rather than at least in part because of him.

I enjoyed Turner and Carrey more. I also got a lot of mileage out of Barry Miller as Richard and Kevin J. O’Connor as Michael in what was an “introducing” credit for him. Both of them would go on to strong character acting careers that I should check out. And I had a blast with the dialogue of husband and wife scriptwriters Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner. The middle one below is delivered by Cage:

“You know what a penis is. Stay away from it.”

“Elvis is dead. This is Ajax.”

“I may be crazy but I'm not crazy enough to marry you twice.”

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