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`Peggy Sue Got Married': Francis Coppola's got a winner

For old-time rock fans, ``Peggy Sue Got Married'' is the title of a classic Buddy Holly song from the 1950s -- the sequel to ``Peggy Sue,'' one of his two or three greatest hits. And now it's a movie title, too -- setting a nicely nostalgic mood for Francis Coppola's new comedy, a whimsical echo of ``Back to the Future'' with an ``American Bandstand'' beat. It all begins when Peggy Sue Bodell walks into the 25th reunion of her high-school class. She was popular in her teens -- queen of the prom, even -- and looked forward to an ideal life with Charlie, her classmate and soon-to-be spouse.

Unfortunately, things haven't worked out so well. Her husband is successful in business -- everyone knows his ``Crazy Charlie'' ads on television -- but he's a creep at home, and the marriage is shaky. It's with mixed feelings (and without Charlie) that Peggy Sue walks into the school gym and starts reliving her past.

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And talk about reliving your past! No sooner is Peggy Sue chosen as queen of the reunion than she hears a rushing in her ears, sinks to the floor, and wakes up back in 1960. She has no idea how she got there, and doesn't know long it'll last. But one thing is clear in her dizzied mind: Whatever happens, she won't marry Charlie this time around!

This sort of theme -- if you could do it over, what would you change? -- has been treated in plenty of other movies. And the idea of exploring a family via time-travel was given a lot more clever twists in ``Back to the Future'' a few seasons ago.

What makes ``Peggy Sue Got Married'' a welcome addition to its genre is its energy, its good acting, and a feeling of goodwill that extends to just about every character -- including Charlie, who's pictured as more goofy than bad, and has a hangdog vulnerability that makes him kind of endearing even when he's being insufferable. Although he's not the protagonist, he becomes the backbone of the story when Peggy Sue tries to remake her life by worming out of their romance. And some of the movie's most pointed ironies focus on him, as when teen-age Peggy Sue (who's really a sophisticated woman of the '80s, remember) says ``Yes'' to one of his clumsy sexual advances, and the poor boy nearly faints with confusion.

I also liked Peggy Sue's response to finding herself back in her own past. Once she gets her bearings, it takes Peggy Sue about three seconds to plunge into the experience with all her heart. And that's a nice metaphor for the attractiveness of youthful memories, including the bittersweet kind.

The making of ``Peggy Sue Got Married'' was a long and complicated affair. Talented folks like Debra Winger and Penny Marshall dropped out of the project along the way, and it might never have gotten to the screen if filmmaker Coppola and his star, Kathleen Turner, hadn't committed themselves to it. But a confection like this is just what Coppola needed to put his work back on an upward track after ``One From the Heart'' and other losers that soured his career after the popular triumph of his ``Godfather'' pictures.

As for the cast, Kathleen Turner is in lively form as Peggy Sue young and old, and Nicolas Cage gives a passionately funny performance as Charlie, managing to be hammy and self-mocking at the same time.

The movie's rating is PG-13.

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