Madonna, Arquette, and some Stranger Things.
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985): 7 out of 10: Did you grow up or were an adult in the early eighties? Did you live in or around New York in the early eighties, Do you love star-studded movies that are filled with people before they were stars? Well, heat up the old VCR because you will like this movie. If you don’t fit any of the above categories, you will find an amiable screwball comedy with a plot that would not be out of place in a Three’s Company episode.
The Good: Desperately Seeking Susan is a truly lighthearted farce. The plot with Rosanna Arquette as the bored housewife of a hot tub mogul (Think a younger Morrie from Goodfellas) and Madonna as a somewhat punk freeloading moocher drifting through life using her um… charms. They kind of switch places because of amnesia and a pretty cool jacket and a set of circumstances that are as silly as can be with stolen artifacts, dead mobsters, and vaudeville magic shows.
One joy of Desperately Seeking Susan is the bit players that would move on to greater things. Laurie Metcalf plays Arquette’s always horny and desperate sister-in-law who hooks up with Steven Wright of all people.
Stephen, in one scene, kind of wanders into frame and grabs some leftover chicken from the fridge. Wright is either a great method actor or was unaware he was in a movie and just enjoyed hanging out with the rest of the cast. Either way, it was a fun turn from a minor character.
John Turturro also hits above the weight of his character as the owner of a magic show and is a delight. The whole magic act arc (for lack of a better description) is a surprise gift that keeps on giving.
Another delight of Desperately Seeking Susan is the fashion and music. I am glad to see I was not the only person who dressed like that in the mid-eighties. It almost seems over the top in some scenes and I remember making a mental note OMG she is wearing those fingerless 80S black lace Madonna gloves how cliche before the rest of my brain kicked in and reminded myself that the character was played by Madonna herself. So I will allow it.
From people-watching to scenery porn, there may not be a better representation of mid-eighties lifestyle on film. Desperately Seeking Susan is a time capsule treasure.
The Bad: While the story isn’t broken in any way it certainly takes a back seat to all the other pleasures the film has to offer. The ending is a curiosity. There are two basic endings. One is a cheesy everyone wins eighties ending where our heroes make the front page of the paper as heroes wrapping up a plot that no one, including the movie itself, cared about.
The other ending is Rosanna Arquette following her heart and choosing to be free. When I first saw the movie, I did not question the wisdom of such a choice. I admit in my cranky old age I have a feeling she may have made a mistake.
The Ugly: Desperately Seeking Susan was intended as an R-rated movie. But after they completed filming Madonna blew up among the tween demographic and producers cut it to get a PG-13 rating (keep in mind this is an eighties’ PG-13 so we still get some brief topless scenes from our stars.) Honestly, that is an understandable position on their part. The disappointment is that thirty years later the original R rated version has still never been released for home video despite plenty of opportunities with anniversary Blu-ray releases etc.
In Conclusion: Desperately Seeking Susan is a lightweight comedy where the background action is often more interesting than the actual characters. I didn’t know anyone like Arquette’s character in the eighties but I knew a lot of Susans. The film nails the time and place it occupies. If you find such a milieu relatable, it is quite the delight.