Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) movie poster

director Susan Seidelman
viewed: 03/11/2017

For all the Eighties nostalgia over John Hughes movies and others, Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan seems somewhat overlooked. Though it’s far from perfect, it’s also quite enjoyable. And though it’s most notable for starring the young and still underpolished Madonna, it has quite a few other things going for it as well.

I’d watched Seidelman’s Smithereens (1982) only a week before, and it was interesting to see that film’s narcissistic wannabe Wren (Susan Berman) sort of matured and developed into Madonna’s titular Susan. Because Susan is cool and aloof, self-centered, uncaring of the people she encounters. Even her lover rocker guy, Jim (Robert Joy), has to track her down by posting to the classified ads in the paper (which is also how Roberta (Roseanna Arquette) gets mixed up in things too.)

It’s true that plotting-wise, with knock-on-the-head amnesia and stolen Egyptian earrings, is TV sitcom level stuff. But Seidelman manages to elevate this, maybe through her characters and castings, to a cut above the run-of-the-mill.

Like Smithereens as well, 1980’s New York City plays a key role. Here it’s not quite so gritty and tough, or maybe it’s grittiness and toughness are seen more through the prism of the New Jersey housewife Roberta, slumming her way to fun and freedom in the bohemian midtown and SoHo of pre-Giuliani Manhattan.

Apparently the film could have become many things, considering the various casting ideas. It’s probably quite good that Seidelman won out and got Arquette and Madonna, though the rising popularity of the latter among teens had this movie reconfigured for PG rather than the R it was initially intended to be. Numerous notable interesting actors appear throughout the film in a variety of roles: John Turturro, Laurie Metcalf, Steven Wright, to name but a few.

Whatever happened to Susan Seidelman? Maybe it was the poor commercial success of her follow-up Making Mr. Right that hamstrung her career? (Pure speculation sans research on my part there – she’s continued to make films, just not any big hits). Because between Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan, there was definitely something brewing in her work.