Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for nudity, some violence, some drug content and language
Running time: 104 min.
Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Madonna, Aidan Quinn, Mark Blum, Will Patton, Robert Joy, Laurie Metcalf, Anna Levine, Steven Wright, John Turturro
Cameo: Giancarlo Esposito, Ann Magnuson, Iris Chacon, Carol Leifer, Richard Portnow, Michael Badalucco, Richard Hell
Director: Susan Seidelman
Screenplay: Leora Barish
Rosanna Arquette (Silverado, Pulp Fiction) stars as Roberta Glass, a dreamer New Jersey housewife who contents herself to reading about the mysterious lives of others through perusing the personals in the local paper. One in particular has caught her eye, involving "Jim (Joy, Radio Days) and Susan (Madonna, Dick Tracy)," who use the ads in order to meet in public places. Curious Roberta heads out to catch a glimpse of the two when they meet in New York City, and. through a mishap, ends up with amnesia, not to mention a case of mistaken identity that sees her playing the role of being Susan herself. Trouble is, the artsy hipster Susan is being followed by a crazed thug (Patton, No Way Out) intent on recovering some heisted priceless Egyptian artifacts that end up given to Jim, earrings that have been seen in the real Susan's possession. With the help of Jim's friend Dez (Quinn, Stakeout), who also mistakenly thinks Roberta is Susan, she must traverse this dangerous territory and find meaning to her own life, even if she has to live the life of another to do it.
A rather old-fashioned story gets the hip and trendy treatment in this delving into the style and fashion of the artistic side of Manhattan's SoHo scene. Although this is a starring vehicle for Rosanna Arquette, who is delightfully cute in her own right, it is most memorable for the appearance of pop superstar Madonna, as she solidifies her image with her mix of leather, lace, and pseudo-brat attitude, while also delivering what is probably her most enduring film role.
Desperately Seeking Susan pushes forward a mild theme that dreamers can sometimes live out their dreams by donning the clothes and filling a role with strangers that they can't do when stuck in the rut of their ordinary lives. Like many young girls would do by co-opting the "Madonna look," a Yuppie housewife becomes a sort of hot commodity, not through changing her personality, but by how she is perceived by those around her due to her fashion sense and her own belief that her life is a blank slate (of course, due to her amnesia). In so doing, Roberta become an "every-girl" by which to identify with as she rubs shoulders with the rarely-seen (at least in mainstream movies) art and performer crowds that embrace originality and personal identity over the cookie-cutter conformism of the suburban American ideals she represents.
Desperately Seeking Susan isn't a film that would garner many critical accolades, as the story does meander due to director Susan Seidelman's (She-Devil, Gaudi Afternoon) fascination with showcasing the setting and people of the area (Manhattan's locale work upstages Arquette throughout) more than she is concerned with the main story at the heart of the film. However, as a slice of pop sensibilities of the 1980s, it is an fun and interesting film just for its bells and whistles alone, with some nice performances by a solid cast of character actors.
More a cute curiosity than a witty, screwball romp, Desperately Seeking Susan will nevertheless hit home for fans of Madonna, SoHo kitsch, and all things that represent the decade in which it was made.
©2010 Vince Leo