Since there are no films coming out this weekend which feel like quality geekery, I’m pulling out one from the wayback machine for the Movie Pick of the Week. I was having a conversation recently wherein we were discussing Kathleen Turner and her great movie performances. While “Romancing the Stone” and “Body Heat” generally get all the attention, for me her standout role is in this 1986 Francis Ford Coppola gem. “Peggy Sue Got Married” is not only a great time travel movie, but also one of the few with a strong, female protagonist.
Peggy Sue, as played by Turner is a middle-age housewife, unhappy with her estranged husband Charlie (played by a great Nicholas Cage) and doubting the path in life she’s chosen for herself. She got pregnant too young, married Charlie and has been the dutiful housewife, while Charlie chases skirts around the office. When she goes to her high school reunion, she has a heart attack, but somehow this particular heart attack carries her backward in time, back to her teenage years, back to high school, where she has no children, and Charlie is a goofball with dreams of being a singer/songwriter and only her boyfriend.
She teams up with the nerdiest kid in school, Richard (played by Barry Miller) to figure out how to get back to her present timeline. The science is gobbledygook, but that doesn’t matter — it’s a story about what would you do if you had your life to live over again — would you do things differently, or would you stay on your path?
Peggy Sue ultimately realizes that taking any other path than the one she took, would have consequences — consequences she may not be able to live with, if she lives at all…
It’s rare to see a film like this carried by a woman, though certainly Kathleen Turner was surrounded by great talent, most of which really hadn’t been discovered yet — Nick Cage, Helen Hunt, who plays Peggy Sue’s daughter, Joan Allen, Kevin J. O’Connor, Jim Carrey, Catherine Hicks (who played Kirk’s love interest in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home that same year) and such great veteran actors as Barbara Harris, who plays Peggy Sue’s mother and the great Maureen O’Sullivan, who plays her grandmother. At the time it was released, the film was a great success, the biggest hit Coppola had had since “Apocalypse Now” was released. Turner was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, but lost to Marlee Matlin. The film also has one of my favorite John Barry scores of all time, with a beautiful, haunting main theme which curls around the entire film. Curiously, the film was written by Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner, who wrote another big feature about 7 years later, but fell off the map.
If more films were like “Peggy Sue Got Married,” there would be far fewer complaints about women as lead characters in genre films. This film proves, just like “The Wizard of Oz” that you can tell a fascinating fantasy tale without a male protagonist. Watch and learn how it’s done.