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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED’: A PRESENT FROM THE PAST

Times Film Critic

You go to “Peggy Sue Got Married” (selected theaters today, citywide on Friday) expecting ‘60s nostalgia, “a blast from the past,” Buddy Holly and lime-green leisure suits. You get all that, but nothing prepares you for the rush of real emotion the film generates, for its poignance, its reassurance or its high of pure pleasure.

“If you could go back, knowing what you know now. . .” is as reliable a premise as it is intriguing. What would you change? Would you marry him again? Have that sexual fling? Set your feet in the same ruts? Or hold back, with the knowledge of the social revolution to come?

Frances Coppola takes that premise, dusts it off, looks at it both seriously and unseriously, and gives it back to us as a rueful love story and a deeply stirring appreciation of the past.

Peggy Sue Bodell (Kathleen Turner) isn’t even sure she wants to go to her 25th high school reunion. Recently separated from Charlie (Nicolas Cage), the husband she had to marry at 18, even the idea of turning up where everyone will ask, “Where’s Crazy Charlie?,” the wackiest businessman in TV ads, makes her cringe.

She goes, of course, with her older daughter as moral support. Can’t let that 1980s silver version of her prom dress she’s had made go to waste. Within minutes, Coppola enfolds us in an opening party sequence that’s (almost) as rich as “The Godfather’s.”

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Her classmates from this classic small town are predictable yet eerie extensions of themselves at 18. Peggy Sue’s two best friends are still that: Carol (Catherine Hicks), now divorced and moved away, was beautiful and headstrong then, and nothing’s changed. Loyal Maddy (Joan Allen), quiet and unremarkable-looking, married her high school sweetheart--thus “missing the sexual revolution entirely,” according to their interviewer-classmate Dolores (Lisa Jane Persky), who was a pushy pain even at 18.

Richard Norvik (Barry Miller), the school’s “four-eyed worm” before a microchip made him the town’s biggest success story, has even come back with his handsome, pregnant wife. Too classy to gloat, he hasn’t forgotten a single slight; it makes him quietly sardonic. Of the entire class, only Peggy Sue was ever decent to him.

As they’re crowning the Reunion King and Queen, Peggy Sue faints, coming to in 1960, a 43-year-old in an 18-year-old’s body. She knows the future all too well, from panty hose to the Pill. She’s seen Charlie give up his dreams of being a singer and slip into the family business--with a bit of philandering on the side. Apparently stuck reliving her last weeks of high school, should she should muck with her destiny or not?

The script, by newcomers Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner, crosses “Our Town’s” prescience and emotion with “Back to the Future’s” cross-generational gags and adds a great ear for the slang of the day. (Explain to your kids the crack-up appeal of “Pardon me while I barf,” “Holy cow!” or “Make-out music.” You had to be there--and, happily, we are.)

It’s in that real sentiment and the film’s poignant questioning of love and loyalties that “Peggy Sue” leaves “Back to the Future” in the starting blocks. How does it feel to be able to see your grandmother again; to notice how young your mother was? And in case we’ve let the attitudes of the ‘60s slip into a pleasant mush of memory, Coppola reminds us: good girls/bad girls; the sacrosanct Saturday night date; Dad as the unquestioned head of the family and Mom at home in the kitchen; and “I’ll respect you for all eternity.” (Or until the next morning, whichever came sooner.)

The acting is grand. Turner, in between her character’s two ages, bites into the role with a bravura that makes us want to forget the differences and be carried by her own, wild-eyed wonder at her predicament. And her rush of feeling (as she visits her grandparents, Leon Ames, Maureen O’Sullivan) is contagious.

Cage’s attack is dangerous, but it works. Pompadoured and “smooth,” using a voice that still sometimes betrays him, he makes teen-aged Charlie a hyperkinetic cartoon of the most popular boy in class, “I’ve got the hair! I’ve got the teeth! I’ve got the eyes. . . . I’m the man! " You can find that boy in the madman who does his own TV ads, and you can find in both the reason that Peggy Sue is angry and rueful and in love, all at once.

The film’s two best age leaps are by Barry Miller (of “The Chosen”) and Joan Allen, (the endangered blind woman in “Manhunter”) in performances that are self-effacing marvels of detail and delineation. Also fine is newcomer Kevin J. O’Connor as the burning-eyed class rebel, afire with self-absorption and bad Beat poetry.

Jordan Cronenweth’s photography heightens (and darkens) the quintessential small-town feel of Petaluma and Sonoma, where the film was made, and John Barry’s music and Theadora Van Runkle’s impeccable, imaginative costuming bring the early ‘60s all back home again.

‘PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED’ A Tri-Star release from Rastar. Producer Paul R. Gurian. Director Francis Coppola. Executive producer Barrie M. Osborne. Screenplay Jerry Leichtling, Arlene Sarner. Camera Jordan Cronenweth. Editor Barry Malkin. Music John Barry. Production design Dean Tavoularis, art direction Alex Tavoularis. Set decoration Marvin March. Sound Richard Bryce Goodman. Costumes Theadora Van Runkle. With Kathleen Turner, Nicolas Cage, Barry Miller, Catherine Hicks, Joan Allen, Kevin J. O’Connor, Jim Carrey, Lisa Jane Persky, Lucinda Jenney, Wil Shriner, Barbara Harris, Don Murray, Sofia Coppola, Maureen O’Sullivan, Leon Ames.

MPAA-rated: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance for attendance of children under 13)

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.


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