It is the 25th anniversary reunion for Buchanan High's class of 1960, and the gym is festooned with memories. Photo blowups freeze Michael Fitzsimmons (Kevin J. O'Connor), track star and would-be Kerouac, in full youthful stride. A larger-than-life-size shot of Prom Queen Peggy Sue Kelcher (Kathleen Turner) and King Charlie Bodell (Nicolas Cage), who soon got married and later separated, captures the popular couple with their teen dreams intact and life's promises spread before them like a red carpet. The blowups could be relics of a religion -- innocence -- that all in attendance want desperately to believe in. When the band launches into a moony ballad, folks in their 40s hit the floor to dance slow and close. And as a Mylar balloon sails toward the rafters, one aging yuppie reaches for the string, but it eludes his grasp. The reflexes of youth are gone, but the impulse is as strong as ever.
Peggy Sue feels this way as well: the buoyancy of her past is out of reach. Charlie -- "Crazy Charlie," as he is called on the TV spots in which he manically promotes his appliance store -- has opted for a young bimbo, and Peggy Sue's carpet has worn thin with trudgery. At the reunion, the anguished smile she wears clashes with her old prom dress. "If I knew then what I know now," she muses, "I'd do a lot of things differently." Will she, though, when she gets the dream of a chance? Crowned the reunion queen, she grows woozy and faints. When she awakes, she is lying on a cot in the same gym, and it is 1960. Her old friends are her young friends now; her husband is a nice, gawky kid. And she is a 42-year-old woman, with all her experiences and frustrations, trapped in the body of a 17-year-old girl. Peggy Sue got time- warped.
Are we headed back to Back to the Future? Yes, but with a sweeter, slower spin on the time machine. For while Robert Zemeckis' box-office champ of 1985 was a hip '80s teenager's look at his funny parents back in the '50s, Peggy Sue (whose script was written long before Future's release) is a panorama of the same terrain as seen by an adult full of remembrance and regret. The teen traveler played by Michael J. Fox was hurled back to a time he knew only from the decade's recycled pop culture. Peggy Sue's trip is spookier. She is literally reviving the ghosts of memory, as when she picks up a 1960 telephone and hears the voice of her "dead" grandmother. She knows what lies ahead: death and decay for the family she once took for granted, compromise and disillusion for herself and Charlie.