Uncaged - Birdy (1984) & Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
This year, I am going to try to get through the whole oeuvre of Nicolas Cage because my fascination with this man and his contradictions is endless. God help me.
The mid-80’s sees Nicolas Cage on the cusp of stardom. While these two movies aren’t super memorable, we see him in lead performances in which either the plot revolves around him or he is a major catalyst for the plot. Birdy was apparently a difficult work to adapt since the original novel was mostly internal monologue. Alan Parker of Commitments and Evita fame would sign on to direct once he felt it was properly adapted.
It is getting more and more obvious to me that Cage is a collaborative actor. He tends to do best when there is either an equally strong performance opposite him or supporting him. Here, Matthew Modine serves as a great contrast as Birdy, the whimsical yet kind boy who loves birds, and Cage as his macho friend Al Columbato, full of that bravado that Cage is known for. Their chemistry is the best part of a somewhat confused movie, which mostly takes place in flashback. This oft-used structure worked sometimes but I often found it clumsy, simply because the flashback wouldn’t smoothly support the current day situation in which Birdy is in a sanatorium and an injured Al is trying to jolt him out of his muteness.
The movie ends up being a story about faith, not necessarily of the religious kind, but faith in other people and how that can change not only the one that is being trusted, but the one giving the trust. If the movie is confused and awkwardly directed in parts, I found the friendship between Modine’s character and Cage’s convincing and affecting.
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Peggy Sue Got Married continues Coppola’s love for period pieces, following both Rumble Fish and The Cotton Club. The film had a troubled production history. At first, it was supposed to be directed by Jonathan Demme and star Debra Winger. Then it was to be Penny Marshall and Winger. Then it came to Coppola and Kathleen Turner would star. This movie is really Turner’s who is fantastic as a middle-aged woman going back into time to 1960 when she was a senior in high school, and it seems that she has a chance to make different decisions that would change the course of life, including not marrying her childhood sweetheart, Crazy Charlie (Cage).
Turner is great playing both her middle-aged self and the young girl who is at the heart of the middle-aged woman in this picture. She has spoken at length about how she has not gotten along with Cage on set. She said he had been arrested for drunk-driving and doing random things like picking up a chihuahua on the street. (Cage later sued her for defamation and won.)
She also took issue with his performance, which, I have to say, I feel the same way about. His Charlie is a gawky, dorky kid with big fake teeth and an oddly high-pitched voice. He was convincing as someone that Turner’s character definitely should not have ended up with. I am not sure I bought the resolution when she decides that she wants to stay with him after all. This is definitely Turner’s movie though, and her performance makes it easier to forgive Cage’s odd performance and some of the thinness of the story.