Monday, September 7, 2009

Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985)

The urbane charm of New York City lures yet another suburban dreamer into its concrete vagina in the cockamamie Desperately Seeking Susan, Susan Seidelman's tangled followup to the more straightforward Smithereens. Taking place during the apex of new wave culture, the fashion conscious film covers the same the territory as Miss Seidelman's debut effort did, in that, they both feature gals who want to escape their ho-hum lives in New Jersey and undergo a dramatic rebirth of sorts. However, whereas Smithereens' Wren was essentially a bratty bag lady who urgently wanted fame and fortune at any cost, Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) just wants a little excitement in her life beyond hosting parties for her hot tub selling husband and his yuppie scum friends (her journal paints an even more mundane picture). And if that means buying a chichi jacket, inadvertently pretending to being the amnesiac boyfriend of a constantly touring rock star, landing a job as a magician's assistant, and replacing Liquid Sky's Anne Carlisle as the girlfriend of a dreamy, cat-loving projectionist who lives above a Chinese restaurant, than so be it. I don't know about you, but it sure beats another night of not sucking the wrinkled cock of a sauna salesmen.

The manner in which Rosanna Arquette's Roberta longingly gazed across the river was quite revealing in it the way it revealed, you know, stuff. You see, the 1980s didn't come to New Jersey until March 1, 1994, and so what Roberta was doing was hankering for the opportunity live through the 1980s during the 1980s. Speaking as someone who was alive during the 1980s, but didn't technically "live" through them, I found plenty to sympathize with Roberta and her many spiritual quandaries.

Sure, I've never been bored housewife, or coveted a gold jacket with a giant pyramid on the back. But as a little girl growing up wherever the fuck it was that grew up, the desire to be swept off my feet by a guy who looked like Aidan Quinn, his extra large eyes drinking in the shapely contours of my sexy body, was just as strong as hers. Even more so, when you factor in that I'm considered clinically insane in most provinces and territories. (Provinces and territories? Hey, that means that I probably grew up somewhere in Canada. Weird.)

The cryptic messages left by a musician (Robert Joy) to his flaky lady friend Susan (Madonna) in the classifieds are what give Roberta the courage to breakout of her comfort zone and experience the rejuvenating splendour that is New York City circa 1984. Like I said, new wave was at its height during this period, and Susan Seidelman's unique directorial vision, Santo Loquasto's costume and production design, and the lush, synth-friendly music score by Thomas Newman (Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael) really do the era justice. I mean, check out the authentic street flavour of the scenes that take place in Greenwich Village. There's a crackling vitality to these sequences.

The opposite is true when we venture into the vaudevillian haunt known simply as the Magic Club. Yet even these seemingly old fashioned scenes had a new wave sheen to them. It was probably because the stylish Ann Magnuson lurked in the background as a cigarette girl.

Or maybe it was the fact that when Anna Levine (Sue) takes off her frilly magicians' assistant clothes, the neon gaudiness of her green and pink ensemble is revealed for the world to see. (Seriously, those are some bright tights.)

The use of Material Girl's "Into the Groove" during the nightclub rendezvous between Gary Glass (Mark Blum), the hot tub guy, and Susan has always my favourite sequence in Desperately Seeking Susan from a purely aesthetic point of view. The way the multi-coloured lights cascade across the crowd of hardcore new wavers was a true thing of beauty. Particularly when it hit the gothy guy in the corner who seemed enamoured by the ruffled nature of his fabric-generous sleeves. Of course, there's something innately perverse about dancing so enthusiastically to your own music, but I think Madonna is one of the few people who can safely get away with such an egregious act of egocentricity.

Even though they don't really interact much in terms of screen time together, you really get the sense Rosanna Arquette and Madonna are each other's throat in this movie. The envy on Rosanna's face as she gazed at her co-star from afar was palpable, and the frustration Madonna displayed over the fact that her jacket was being worn by someone pretending to her literally oozed off her skin. Actually, that's a tad reaching. Madonna's character, and apparently the pop singer herself, is so aloof and self-involved, that something as serious as identity theft wouldn't even faze her.

At the any rate, the two get into a bit of a farcical cat and mouse over a pair of expensive earrings (the kind you might see in a Klymaxx video). Scandalous!



  1. Watching this film when it first came out in 1985 was one of the reasons I wanted to visit NYC. I love the way the city is shot in this film.

    Has Madonna ever been as good as she is in this film? (mebbe A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN?) I guess she's essentially playing herself or what we all assume to be her and does a damn fine job. Never been a huge Rosanna Arquette fan but she is good in this one.

    I also really dig seeing Will Patton show up as the creepy guy stalking Madonna/Arquette and also funnyman Steven Wright as one of Arquette's husband's buddies. He manages to steal the few scenes he's in with his trademark deadpan delivery.

  2. I always preferred the meaty Madonna to the extra-stringy Madonna we have today. She's only been good for stew since the early '90s. Call me crazy, but there was something special about those Groucho Marx eyebrows she used to sport.

    I did like "Who's That Girl" too, and oddly that is the limit of my Madonna experience in film. Wait, she was in "The Four Rooms" wasn't she... My memory. Cést la Guerre!

  3. Not crazy about WHO'S THAT GIRL or FOUR ROOMS, but I did like her in DICK TRACY. But I'm with you, give me meaty Madonna over muscular Madonna any ol' day.

  4. Definitely prefer the more zaftig Madonna.

    God, Aidan Quinn is so sexy in this movie. *swoon* I remember taping the "Into the Groove" video off MTV and playing it over and over and over and over. There's a moment at 2:36 when Arquette looks into a mirror...and there's Aidan. *thud*

  5. J.D.: I agree completely. The city looks amazing in this film.

    Now that I think about it, Will Patton is pretty great, especially during the sequence at the boardwalk. In that, I couldn't wait for Rosanna to get away from him; Will's creepiness is topnotch.

    Darius Whiteplume: I would never call you crazy. After all, Madonna's eyebrows during that particular era are off the hook. In other words, I like 'em.

    "Who's That Girl" was recommended to me years ago, but I've yet to get around to watching it. :(

    Karim Amir: Oooh, "zaftig." What a cool word.

    I would have included the Aidan mirror thud moment, but alas, I don't own the DVD. *sniff*

  6. YUM YUM - def. watch Who's that's great fun.

    DSS is one of my favorite films. I loved you descriptions of the scenes, and especially your mention of Thomas Newman's score which I have on my iPod.

    The "Into the Groove" scene is also one of my fav. scenes. I really dig all the screen grabs, they are the ones I'd take as well. This is Madonna at her sexiest.

    Excellent review.

  7. Will do. re: Who's That Girl.

    I *heart* Thomas Newman's synth scores.

    Thanks, Jay.

    Hope you didn't think I was too harsh on the great state of New Jersey. :)

  8. Hey, it's TIFF time! Let me know if you have anyone famous cuts in front of you in a line.

    Oh, yeah, I've known a lot of folks from NJ, and most of the stereotypes are true. ;)

    And I didn't know Thomas Newman did the score! He also scored Reckless.

    Klymaxx. Hee.

  9. Yeah, it's TIFF time, baby!

    Oh, you mean like Don McKeller did? Sure thing.

    So far, I've already brushed shoulders with Carole Pope from Rough Trade (I kept my shit together like a pro), spotted Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, and had Jessica Pare's ass five inches from my face (hey, I was in an aisle seat).

    Jay obviously has a sense of humour about his state. After all, he calls NJ: "The Armpit of America."

    I can't remember which one, but there is a Klymaxx video that features earrings that look exactly like the one's in DSS.

  10. Great post. I love this movie. I've only seen it a time or two, but I enjoyed it. Madonna was amazing in this movie. I suppose she was essentially playing herself, but she was still cool.

  11. Thanks, Keith.

    Yeah, I don't want to say that she shouldn't have tried to expand her acting range. But there's no denying that Madonna is at her most awesome when she plays characters that are similar to her own personality.

  12. lol...Karim is right...most of the stereotypes are true! lol. I still love the state even with all its flaws though! lol

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