Awesome ’80s In April: Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

desperately seeking susan movie poster

I feel like I’m going to spend the first few paragraphs of every review I write for this Awesome ’80s in April segment discussing the various memories I have associated with each film. I really had no idea these movies would bring back such memories, but here we are.

If you didn’t live through the 1980s it is hard to explain just how big of a star Madonna was. She was everywhere. She had a ton of radio hits that were in constant rotation on the airwaves. She made great videos that were repeatedly playing on MTV. She was on magazine covers and on talk shows. Madonna and Michael Jackson were the 1980s.

Desperately Seeking Susan was her first film role. She’s basically playing herself. Or at least the public persona she was presenting at the time. She’s the Susan of the title, a free spirit, punk rock sort of girl. We first meet her at a hotel where she’s just spent a free night of spirit-making with a mobster. Right after she leaves some other mobsters throw that guy out the window. Thinking she might be a testifying witness, mobster Wayne (Will Patton) spends the film looking for her to rub her out.

But first, we meet Roberta Glass (Roseanna Arquette) a bored, middle-class housewife who spends her days getting her hair done and reading the personal ads. She’s intrigued by one that says “Desperately Seeking Susan” and lists a time and a place to meet. She’s seen similar ads before and figures Susan and the desperate guy must meet regularly via the personals.

She thinks that’s romantic and decides to go to Battery Park and spy on the lovebirds. Through a series of rather silly events Roberta is mistaken for Susan and due to a bout of amnesia she winds up thinking she’s Susan too.

She meets a nice guy, Dez (Aidan Quinn) and they get into a series of adventures together. Meanwhile, the real Susan is looking for Roberta because she’s got the key to the storage locker where she’s got all her stuff. (The key was accidentally left in her jacket pocket which she sold to a thrift store and Roberta purchased after Roberta followed Susan around the city – I told you things got silly).

The plot isn’t really the point of this movie. It is something like a modern take on the classic screwball comedy. It wanders around some cool old sections of New York City and meets some wonderful characters (played by a who’s who of just getting their start New York actors including Laurie Metcalf, Stephen Wright, Jon Turturro, and Giancarlo Esposito).

Madonna is great in it. She really does seem to be playing herself, or to put it another way, this role feels like it was made specifically for her (though it wasn’t she had to beat out such wonderful actors as Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her wardrobe is full of that classic early ’80s New York City style that Madonna was famous for.

Arquette is great as well. It is really her movie and it follows her character as she changes from this bored housewife who is just going through the motions to someone finding her own sense of style and self. Madonna gets lauded for having her own unique sense of self, but Arquette holds her own. She’s such a unique performer.

Desperately Seeking Susan is another film that I’ve known about since it came out. It has been on my list of things to watch for ages, but for whatever reason, I never got around to it. The film is really fun, silly, and full of style. It is a time capsule of New York City as well and works as a perfect embodiment of the 1980s.

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