“Yeah, well, fortunately for everyone, I’m here and I’m thinking.”
Promoted as “the Madonna movie” when it came out just before the Virgin Tour kicked off in the spring of 1985, Desperately Seeking Susan is an ’80s time capsule: the story revolves around personal ads, the style is big hair bows and junk jewelry, the score is all synth, and of course there’s that catchy dance track “Into the Groove”—a deliciously raw demo, at that. It might seem unlikely, but this film has held up over time and has turned out to be an interesting little gem.
Desperately Seeking Susan is light and fun, but it’s not a fluff piece. Loaded with mistaken identities, missed connections, double reversals, and loopbacks, the plot is clever and tight even if it isn’t terribly complicated. Roberta Glass (Rosanna Arquette) is a lonely, unfulfilled housewife from Fort Lee, New Jersey. Neglected by her husband, Gary (Mark Blum), a hot tub salesman, she reads the personals for diversion and becomes obsessed with a recurring one between Susan (Madonna) and her boyfriend, Jim (Robert Joy). Roberta steps out to the City to spy on them when Jim summons Susan to Battery Park one afternoon. A series of finely timed events, including the exchange of a jacket with the Eye of Providence on the back of it and a nasty bump on the head, literally pulls Roberta into Susan’s wild life.
Director Susan Seidelman executes the whole thing nicely. The vibe is scrappy and energetic. The story is packed with great characters, and the actors all bring it to make them interesting and believable—even Madonna playing a far less ambitious version of herself. The standouts are Arquette; Laurie Metcalf, who plays Gary’s sister as a neurotic shrew; and Aidan Quinn, who plays projectionist and knight in shining armor Dez with the right amount of gruffness and sexiness. Notable small roles are John Turturro as Ray, the owner of the Magic Club; Steven Wright as Gary’s dentist; and Richard Hell as Bruce, the guy Susan leaves in a hotel room in Atlantic City. The best character, though, is New York City itself; all the exterior shots are fabulous if only for the fact that they capure a city that no longer exists. C’mon, I’m waiting!
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