1986 in Film – Peggy Sue Got Married

Release Date: October 10th
Box Office: $38,948,832

A time travel film about someone who goes back to the fifties? Haven’t we been here before? Well, kinda sorta.

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) is a different kind of time travel film from that other one that dominated the decade, Back To The Future (1985). You know that one, right?

BTTF is the kind of time travel film that doesn’t shy away from the science of time travel, wants to explain it. Whereas as in Peggy Sue time travel just kinda happens and it’s all left a bit ambiguous.

So Peggy Sue Bodell is played by Kathleen Turner and she’s off to her high school reunion fresh from leaving her adulterous husband Charlie played by Nicholas Cage. Straight after they graduated she became pregnant and have been together ever since which has left Peggy wondering what could have been. Wouldn’t you know it, she ends up fainting and, you won’t believe this, she wakes up back in her senior year of high school in 1960.

It’s a romantic comedy and a nice one at that, using the time travel as a way for a character to reflect in their life rather than driving the whole story. When we get to the end and Peggy wakes up back in the (then) present day of course the question is if it really happened at all.

And thats about all there is to the film, it’s an enjoyable nostalgic bit of fluff. It would probably have faded away further if not for it being directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Yep, that Coppola. One of the central figures of the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking. Director of The Godfather (1972) and The Conversation (1974).

It kinda goes without saying though that this isn’t that Coppola. This is a post Apocalypse Now (1979), a film which fundamentally changed the man. His output following that film would never reach the same level as his work in the 70s, probably reaching it’s nadir that decade with the failure of The Cotton Club (1984) with critics and the box office.

Peggy Sue is a decent film, a simple solid story to follow Cotton Club to help Coppola get back on his feet. You have an early turn by Cage showing flashes of the quirkiness that would end up with him becoming NIC CAGE. Kathleen Turner is the star of the film, following up her roles in Romancing The Stone (1984) and Jewell of The Nile (1985) with an Oscar nomination. The film also was well received by the critics and Coppola’s first bona fide hit since Apocalypse.

So, if the film is really decent at best, why the love for it? It helps that the film slots nicely into the Baby Boomer nostalgia boom that had been chugging along since American Graffiti (1973).

Baby Boomers refers to the generation born in the wake of World War II, a generation that would of grown up in the 50s and 60s. Graffiti is the first film to really look back to this era and was soon followed by Happy Days on TV then you have things like Animal House (1979) and Porky’s (1981) and even Back To The Future. The ultimate example of this would be Dirty Dancing (1987).

Of course this makes perfect sense. There is always a time when a generation becomes ‘in charge’ of pop culture and start looking back to their childhood. You only have to see the explosion of 80s themed media of the last, what, five years or so to understand this. Everyone wants to look back and be told how awesome it was when they were kids rather than grown up adults with responsibilities.

Peggy Sue taps into that, the idea of taking the grown up you and send you back to when you were a kid and getting a chance to do things over again. As an idea it’s seductive so it isn’t surprising that the film connected with an audience. Take that out of the equation, for audiences who didn’t live through the era this film was set, the film doesn’t land half as well.

Despite the success, Coppola wouldn’t be able to build on this success. It would be a slippery slope to The Godfather Part III (1990) and worse. Turner would continue as a leading star before being brought down by rheumatoid arthritis. It’s probably best remembered as being one of the early films that saw Nic Cage on the path to becoming a superstar in the 1990s.

A decent film with great casting. Best thing you can say really.

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