Fangrrls on Film: Peggy Sue Got Married and Kathleen Turner, our IDGAF queen

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Aug 31, 2018

Film criticism is a very dude-heavy industry. According to a 2016 study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, men account for 73% of the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, resulting in men often shaping the narrative of what makes a "good" film or a "bad" film—what's worth seeing and what's not. And even the most well-meaning, wokest of men wouldn't necessarily catch the microaggressions or tropes that tend to define whole genres.

So, as our answer to years of male critics driving and basically shaping the movie industry with their opinions, Fangrrls on Film re-reviews films from a fangrrl perspective.

Recently, Kathleen Turner sat down with Vulture for an instantly iconic interview where she dropped lethal levels of shade on Elizabeth Taylor, an unnamed actress, and former co-star Nicolas Cage, which we will get to momentarily. But one bit of the interview stood out most for me and so many other women reading:

What else, aside from luck, has driven your career?

What do you mean?
I’m f*ckin’ angry, man.

About what?

Where does that anger come from?
Injustice in the world.

And while Turner herself would certainly rank her experience on Peggy Sue Got Married pretty low when compared to real-world injustices, the film — both behind the scenes and what we see onscreen — serves as a reminder of what women are allowed to be and how we are seen when we drift beyond that.

Peggy Sue Got Married, Francis Ford Coppola's 1986 fantasy, follows Turner as Peggy Sue, a middle-aged mother of two who's recently split with her husband and high school sweetheart, Charlie (Nicolas Cage). When she has a heart attack at their 25th high school reunion, she finds herself back in 1960, now 17 years old and seemingly given a second chance to do it all over again. 

The film is a sweet, enjoyable ode to nostalgia and the classic question, "If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?" Only Peggy Sue is ultimately limited in her choices. In order for her children to exist, she has to make the same choices as before, seemingly resigned in the end to choosing Charlie, while Charlie chooses to eschew a music career in order to run his father's appliance store (the movie wants us very much to think Charlie had a real shot at musical greatness but given Cage's lack of musical skill, this is definitely the right decision for Charlie). Nothing changes, save for a one-night dalliance with the class bad boy and poet, something she is punished for with gossip and a heartbroken Charlie. While life has taught her not to care about idle gossip and given her a more sex-positive attitude than your average '60s high school student, her regrets and years of betrayal and boredom are palpable in every scene, something that doesn't dissipate in the climactic epiphany that she does love Charlie and she is ready to become pregnant at 18 and marry this nails-on-a-chalkboard-voiced clownshoe all over again. Yay for a happy ending?

The tale of a woman being subjected to a man's mediocrity because she lacks the choice otherwise, even when it would appear she has all the power in the world to change things, was by no means relegated to the film itself. Turner, as the star of the film, was miserable dealing with Cage, Coppola's nephew, and there was nothing she could do about it, something else she discussed with Vulture.

I have another question about actors and their choices: When you show up on set, like you did for Peggy Sue Got Married, and realize that Nicolas Cage has decided to play his part with such an unusual voice — that he was doing a thing — how did that affect how you calibrated your performance?
It was tough to not say, “Cut it out.” But it wasn’t my job to say to another actor what he should or shouldn’t do. So I went to [director] Francis [Ford Coppola]. I asked him, “You approved this choice?” It was very touchy. He [Nicolas Cage] was very difficult on set. But the director allowed what Nicolas wanted to do with his role, so I wasn’t in a position to do much except play with what I’d been given. If anything, it [Cage’s portrayal] only further illustrated my character’s disillusionment with the past. The way I saw it was, yeah, he was that asshole.

Sorry, Nicolas Cage or his character?
Listen, I made it work, honey.

That "disillusionment with the past" is such a strong aspect of the character that the fact the two end up together in the end is a clear indication that the film itself had no idea it was telling this story. As women, life gives us obnoxious male lemons and we're expected to make lemonade or else we are the problem, not them. And the rest of Turner's career, despite all the lemonade she stirred over the years, was colored by the notion that she — and never any of her male co-stars — was the issue.

You didn’t think any of the press about your being “difficult” or your drinking or your illness was cynical?
The “difficult” thing was pure gender crap. If a man comes on set and says, “Here’s how I see this being done,” people go, “He’s decisive.” If a woman does it, they say, “Oh, f*ck. There she goes.”

What’s an example of that happening to you?
Here’s one that was very nicely resolved with Francis [Ford Coppola]: Sometimes at night I dream the scene I’m going to be doing the next day, and with Peggy Sue I had dreamed a scene where my character was coming down the stairs in the old house and meets her mother. In my dream the camera was there. When I got on set, the camera was here. I was disoriented. I said to Francis, “The camera’s supposed to be over there” — because that’s how I’d dreamed it — and he went, “No, it’s not.” I said, “I’m telling you it should be over there.” He goes, “Well, it’s over here.” So we made a deal.

What was the deal?
He said that if I gave him as many takes as he wanted from where he had set the camera, he would give me two takes from where I wanted the camera. And guess what happened?

The take he used was from your spot?
Damn right.

To be a woman — in 1960, 1986 or today — can bring with it the illusion of choice and power. And we've come a long way, such a long way. But we are still judged and derided and forced into positions where we have so few options, where in order to preserve our families and come close to the idea of "having it all," we compromise at every turn. In the end, what else can we do but make lemonade with all the lemons life gives us? And when the lemonade turns out to be delicious, will we ever get full credit? Or will be labeled difficult, crazy or any of the other words they throw at us?

We're all "f*ckin' angry, man." And in a world where Peggy Sue resigned herself to more of the same, we're pretty grateful for Turner and her ability to choose rage.

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