"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there," L.P. Hartley noted in the opening of his novel The Go-Between.
In 1986, Francis Ford Coppola tried to explore that notion with his wan whimsy in Peggy Sue Got Married, which closed the New York Film Festival. Kathleen Turner, who was nearing the end of her film career as a marketable entity on the West Coast (The War of the Roses (1989) was her final Hollywood hit), starred as the eponymous fortyish mother whose greasy spouse (Nicolas Cage) is ditching her. Distraught, Peggy Sue is persuaded to attend her high school reunion where she ends up being crowned queen. Immediately, she collapses and winds up traveling back in time to her teens. The quirk is that both she and the audience see that Peggy Sue clearly is a middle-aged mom dressing up in age-inappropriate attire, while her parents, friends, and all the other screen personae see her as she would have been at age 16.
What joy! Peggy Sue can now reunite with her deceased relatives and tell her mom (the superb Barbara Harris) that she loves her. But can the past be changed? In her original life's journey, Peggy Sue wed her high school sweetheart (Cage) who wound up being such a relentless jerk. But if she turns her back on him now, what will happen to her future children whom she misses so much?
With a cast that includes Jim Carrey, Barry Miller, Joan Allen, Maureen O’Sullivan, and an inept Sofia Coppola as Peggy Sue's sister, the film often soars into the imaginary heavens of delight but then just as quickly sputters and crash lands due to Coppola's leaden helming, which is not surprising on two counts. Coppola has, if memory serves me correctly, never centered a film around a woman before, and his only sustained comedy was his early effort, the truly delightfully offbeat You're a Big Boy Now (1966) starring Peter Kastner and Elizabeth Hartman.
Now, 26 years later, the New York Film Festival is taking a second chance on the same scenario, but this time with a Gallic sensibility. Noemie Lvovsky directs and stars in Camille Rewinds as the alcoholic Camille, an unsuccessful actress whose spouse has left her for a younger damsel.
Distraught, Camille is induced to attend a New Year’s party where she'll be reuniting with all of her old classmates. After countless toasts, New Year's rings in, and Camille collapses and winds up travelling back to her teens, where she ponders, "If you could go back in your life and change a love that you know will end badly, would you end it?"
Although the story yet again doesn't take advantage of all of its delicious possibilities, this more elastic rendering carries far more charm than its predecessor thanks to Lvovsky and her far less wooden castmates. The young women here are more natural, the lads less stereotypically jerky, and Lvovsky's direction far more light-handed. The end result is a smile-engendering journey back to youthful innocence that we all wish we could take. After all, who wouldn't mind losing their virginity once again, and this time with some polished technique? - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "The Arts in New York City," "American Jewish Theater," and "Theater of the Sixties" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.