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Sep 9, 2008

CAGEFEST: The Nic Cage Film Festival - Peggy Sue Got Married

CAGEFEST has arrived. In case you missed the announcement post the other day, Blog Cabins will be "celebrating" its most famous rival, the man formerly known as Nicolas Coppola. I'll be getting by with a lot of help from my friends as we take a look at ten films spanning Cage's career, from today's breakthrough role in Peggy Sue to last year's embarrassing Ghost Rider. For each film, there will be two arguments, a PRO and a CON.

Tackling the PRO today is Jess from Insight Into Entertainment. Jess is a longtime friend of Blog Cabins and the LAMB (she's #14) and had the pleasure of drubbing me in the last LAMB "battle" series, riding Lara Croft to the title, while the guys in the competition just dreamt of riding Lara Croft. But I digress...

For background, Peggy Sue (played really well by Kathleen Turner) faints at her high school reunion and wakes up back in her senior year (knowing all she knows will happen later) dating Charlie (Nic Cage), a popular couple deciding whether or not to marry after high school. Charlie has the option of going on to sing for a living or working in his dad’s electronics store. He takes the sensible route, marries Peggy Sue, and they have children and resent each other for the lost dreams. Peggy Sue goes back determined to make changes and not just be the good girl everyone expects. She dates the bad guy, hangs out with the nerd (giving him more ideas for his own future and glory). Overall, the movie is a cheesy, but funny look at 50s/60s high school students and the choices they were given and how much has changed in the time since Peggy Sue was in high school. Kathleen Turner is good, and the movie as a whole is good, fun to watch, memorable, and over the top. The problem is definitely Nicolas Cage’s performance as the wannabe rock and roll singer who didn’t have the talent to make it big. His look is ridiculous, even for the time period, and the nasal voice he uses throughout doesn’t endear him to anyone. I still watch this movie whenever it appears on TV, a definite guilty pleasure.

On the CON side, we have Pat from Doodad Kind of Town. When not travelling all over the world, Pat writes about a diverse mix of contemporary and classic films. The thing is, she typically has so many films in her queue, she's always playing catchup. Such is the life of a movie lover; so many movies, so little time. Pat's also a LAMB; her site is #24.

"Do you think the world would still like me if I stopped being Mr. Excitement?" - Nicolas Cage in Peggy Sue Got Married

That line always takes me by surprise. I wasn't aware he'd ever started being Mr. Excitement.

Actually, I think Mr. Completely-Freaking-Clueless might have been more accurate.

Every actor, when faced with a new role, makes choices about how he is going to play that role. Some actors make risky choices which ultimately prove to be brilliant and inspired. And some actor make risky choices that just prove they are lunatics.

Cage's controversial choice for his character, Charley Bell, falls resoundingly into the latter category.

Here Cage is playing a popular, (supposedly) good-looking high-schooler and aspiring singer, circa 1960. Inexplicably, he chose to model the character's speaking voice on that of:

If you've never heard Pokey talk, let me assure you he does not sound like an energetic 18-year-old who secretly sings R&B in a grimy little club on the weekends. He speaks in a strangulated little voice that usually suggests he's about to break out neighing and whinnying.

In the first place, Cage doesn't even imitate Pokey all that well, though he does sound pretty cartoon-y. In the second place, it's never clear what the point of the goofy voice was anyway. Is it supposed to make Charley vulnerable or just ridiculous? (It kind of does both, but not in a good way; you mostly just feel embarrassed for Cage.) If nothing else, it makes for some pretty odd line readings. At times when Charley is most emotional - whenever he is in danger of losing Peggy Sue - Cage's voice gets particularly high-pitched and cartoon-like. I cannot overstate how annoying this is. At those precise moments when you're supposed to feel the most sympathy for Charley, you want instead to slap him up the side of the head with a two-by-four, and tell him to lose the stupid voice already! It takes you completely out of every important scene between him and Kathleen Turner (which is especially unfortunate since Turner is pouring her heart into these exchanges, and deserves better in return.)

I'm certainly not the first to complain about that voice. Turner was still sufficiently pissed off about it twenty years later that she reamed Cage in her autobiography "Send Yourself Roses." The director nearly fired Cage - and given that the director (Francis Ford Coppola) was both Cage's uncle and famously prone to bad, nepotistic casting choices (hence the leaden presence of daughter Sofia here and later in The Godfather, Part III) - that gives you some idea of how bad Cage appeared to those on the set. Eventually Cage talked Coppola and the screenwriters into keeping him on the film (I assume by using his own voice and not that Pokey-inspired one.)

But the voice is only a symptom of the deeper problem that Cage is simply not the right man for the role. He's too odd-looking and eccentric a performer to credibly portray an all-American teenager, even one who's unwittingly headed for a life of suburban ennui. And he's too young. Sometimes, to play a teenager properly, an actor needs the ironic distance of a few years, particularly when the actress playing his girlfriend is about 10 years his senior. Cage was barely 22 here. (In the 'present day' scenes, when he's been aged to look 43, he actually just looks like a 22-year-old with a little padding and some ghoul makeup.) And there's just no chemistry between him and Turner. We're supposed to believe that Turner's Peggy Sue not only married him the first time, but would marry him again if given the chance to live her senior year of high school all over again. And we don't. In fact, we want to tell Peggy Sue to run for her life that second time around.

(Call me crazy, but when I try to think of who I'd have cast in the role of Charley, Treat Williams comes to mind over and over again. He was/is handsome, he can sing, and he could easily have matched Turner in both energy and talent. )

I'm a not a Nicolas Cage hater, I swear. I think his idiosyncrasies as an actor were better put to use the following year in Moonstruck and Raising Arizona. And, while I've never seen Vampire's Kiss, I'm pretty sure if I needed an actor to eat a live cockroach on screen, Cage is one of the first people I'd call. But Nicolas Cage as an early '60s teenage heartthrob? Nah! No way!

5 people have chosen wisely: on "CAGEFEST: The Nic Cage Film Festival - Peggy Sue Got Married"

WaywardJam said...

Excellent job ladies. I have never seen Peggy Sue Got Married, was always split on it. I always thought the poster was lame.

Your arguments keep me torn on adding it to the Q. The wacky Cage-factor makes it a skip.

Fox said...

Good start to Cagefest guys.

And I'm glad Pat mentions Cage in Vampire Kiss b/c it's one of the best perfomances of the 80's, and FLETCH KNOWS IT!!

p.s. Why has "Nic Cage" commented yet?

Robb said...

I love this movie. Hello, Barbara Harris!!! I know he is weird in it, but weird is better than boring, so I can deal with Cage in this one, even if I do agree with much of the CON argument. I actually remember liking him in it when the movie first came out, but when I watched it again a year ago or so he didn't hold up as well as I'd remembered.

But still. Barbara Harris!!! She's my second choice for favorite 1950s mom, second only behind Joan Allen in Pleasantville.

Pat said...

Jess, I'm glad you outlined the plot so well, since I kinda jumped right in with the Cage critcisim, probably without putting it all in the proper context. Actually, I'm pretty much in agreeement with you. "Peggy Sue" is a fun movie and Kathleen Turner is great in it; it's only Cage's performance that really rubs me the wrong way.

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