Sunday, December 20, 2009
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
I'd been in the mood to watch this ever since seeing the "Seeing Songs" exhibit at the Boston MFA, which features a video piece of various Madonna fans karaoke-ing her songs. Desperately Seeking Susan is one of the few films that really makes me wish I was a hip twentysomething living in the Village in the mid-80's. For real. The movie follows jaded New Jersey housewife Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), who stalks cool drifter Susan (Madonna) through the personal ads. As the flighty Susan travels around the US, she and her rocker boyfriend Jim (Robert Joy) communicate through the personals.
After she unwittingly gets mixed up in a mob murder and jewel theft, Susan tries to lay low in New York, while Roberta gets amnesia and is mistaken for Susan. Jim's friend Dez (Aiden Quinn) takes Roberta in without knowing who she really is, and they develop a halting romance. Meanwhile, Susan helps Roberta's yuppie cheating husband Gary (Mark Blum) find his wife. There's lots of eye-catching fashion, endearingly run-down buildings, cameos, and cool tunes thrown into the mix.
That synopsis sounds convoluted on paper, I'm sorry, but I am not a great writer as has surely already been established. But don't worry, Desperately Seeking Susan is not at all confusing to watch, despite the fact that it stars two dudes and two ladies who look alike. It's a cute story about how awful being a housewife in NJ is, and how everything in NYC is fun and bohemian and neon: all concepts I can get behind. It's also about a lady learning to stand up for herself and finding out what kind of life she'd like to have, instead of continuing to suffer the one she'd settled into. And it's about another lady with impeccable fashion sense, tons of confidence, and the balls to dance in a club to her own song. (Can you guess which is which!?)
While the story is light and fun (that crime and murder stuff is barely involved), the characters are interesting and funny. I really enjoy Roberta's husband and sister-in-law as they debate her whereabouts, convinced she'd become a prostitute or worse, a lesbian! Their dialogue provides an unexpectedly smart satire on those WASPy middle-class New Jerseyans. At the other end of the spectrum are cool hipsters Jim and Dez, the former spiking his hair and touring with his rock band, the latter showing obscure old movies as a projectionist. Arquette tends to be a little grating, but generally she does a nice job pulling all these disparate characters and stories together. They are all slight caricatures, but still real people for the most part. Madonna, of course, elevates herself above anyone else in the film through her portrayal of the carefree, seemingly magical Susan, floating above those mere mortals imbued with that innate rock star persona and moxy to spare.
With equal parts comedy, fashion, and intrigue, Desperately Seeking Susan is an enjoyable glimpse at a very specific culture and time period. It's a little silly and a little romantic, offering a nice spotlight on two cool women leads. Nothing life-altering, but always a fun diversion.