A Journey in the 80s: Desperately Seeking Susan


Today, for my fourth review as a member of the Dirty Dozen (a Facebook group formed of twelve movie reviewers), I’ve decided to write about one of my favourite movies of the 80’s. Well… now that I’m thinking about it, I think it really is my number one favourite. Anyway, I’m talking about Desperately Seeking Susan. This film was directed by Susan Seidleman in 1985 and starred Madonna, Rosanna Arquette, Aidan Quinn, Mark Blum, Robert Joy, Laurie Metcalf, Anna Levine, Will Patton, Steven Wright, Peter Maloney and John Turturro. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Cesar.

Susan Seidelman
Susan Seidelman

In a 1984’s interview, Madonna described this film as a “murder mystery comedy romance”. Well, it’s far from being an ordinary movie! The main action takes place in New-York. Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), a young married woman without any story, is bored with her pathetic suburban life in. Her husband, Gary (Mark Blum), a pools seller, doesn’t seem to really care about her and Gary’s sister, Leslie (Laurie Metcalf) always introduced herself in their life in one way or another. She’s really invasive. Roberta’s only interested is the personals section of a New-York newspaper. What grabs her attention the most is the little message of this section entitled “Desperately Seeking Susan”. A couple is sending messages to each other via this paper. It’s their way to find each other when one is gone. Roberta is fascinated by this woman, Susan (Madonna) and wants to discover who she is.


On her side, Susan, who was in New-Jersey, is back to New-York. She and her boyfriend Jimmy (Robert Joy) have an appointment. Of course, Roberta knows about it, thanks to the personals, and decides to follow her. She finally loses her but buys a coat that had belonged to her in a pawn shop. In the evening, she finds a key in the coat pocket and a picture of Susan. She then decides to dress up like Susan just for fun. However, she wants to return the key so she gives an appointment to Susan in a park. She sets the appointment via the private message section and signs it “A stranger”. Susan reads it and don’t think it’s really amusing, but decides to go to the appointment because she wants her key back. However, she is arrested when she arrives because she doesn’t give enough money to the cab driver. Roberta doesn’t notice her and continues to look for her.


Then, what’s important to know before I continue is that one of two days before, Susan was in a man’s place for the night. Before she left the place in the morning, she stole some money and a pair of beautiful earrings. She was then going to catch her bus and was noticed by a mysterious stranger. The day she’s having her appointment with Jim, she learns that this man has been thrown out of a window and that the earrings she stole belonged to Nefertiti and where stole in a museum. She tells Jimmy (except for the earrings) and this one, who worries for her, sends his friend Dez (Aidan Quinn) after her. So, after Susan gets arrested, Roberta is disturbed by the mysterious and dangerous guy (Will Patton) who think she’s Susan. When she tries to escape, she falls on her head. Dez arrives at the same moment. When he sees she’s having trouble, he goes after her to take care of her. However, he really thinks she’s Susan and so does Roberta as has she lost her memory… I won’t tell you more. This is only the beginning of the film.


You have to know something. I love classic films, but also Madonna. I used to be obsessed with her. I still am, but I’m taking it more easy you know! So, of course, I wanted to hear all her music and see all her films (which I haven’t done because they are not all good films). Of course, Desperately Seeking Susan was high on the list. The first time I saw this film, it was via a VHS copy that my grandmother had recorded for me on television. So, I first saw it in French (but at the time I didn’t mind watching my movies in French). I immediately loved it. I have now seen the film countless times and know it quite by heart. And, yes, it became my favourite Madonna film.


The distribution of Desperately Seeking Susan is very interesting. Rosanna Arquette won the BAFTA award for her performance as Roberta and Madonna received a good feedback about her acting. She is, in my opinion, the most interesting element of this film. Really, you can’t say that this is not a good performance because she is kind of playing her own role. Indeed, just like Madonna, Susan is a little rebel, she likes to do whatever she wants and doesn’t really care about what people may think of her. Susan clothes in the films were also designed in Madonna’s own style (her dressing style in the 80’s), not to mention that the action takes place in New-York, the city where everything started for her. Rosanna Arquette is also great in this film. I’m less familiar with her than I am with Madonna, but she was quite interesting in this film and, in my opinion, perfect for the part of Roberta. Aidan Quinn, who plays Dez, was good, but sometimes a little too serious, Well, that was part of his character, so I guess he played it right. I think my favourite male character in this film is Gary (Roberta’s husband) played by Mark Blum. He is so stupid because he understands nothing about his wife Roberta and his only preoccupation is to sell pools to his customers. Well, that’s what makes him one of the funniest characters of Seidelman’s work. The parts where he is with Susan are delightfully hilarious because they are two opposite characters.


DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, Rosanna Arquette, Mark Blum, 1985, (c) Orion

The fact that Desperately Seeking Susan is a murder mystery comedy makes it intriguing. Why? Because there is a certain suspense. At first, just like Roberta, we want to know more about Susan. Then, we wonder who is this mysterious stranger who is after Susan, and, when Roberta has her accident, we can’t wait to see what will happen. But all this is told in a comic way so it remains pleasant to watch. It’s, honestly, the kind of movie that never bore me. It grabs my attention from the beginning until the end. There are no unnecessary scenes. The fact that it was directed by a woman also makes it worthy. First, because female movie directors a rarer than male movie directors, but also because we can really feel this film was directed from a woman’s point of view. The female characters are more important than the male’s ones and everything is settled to their advantage. They are also independent women, even if they each have a man in their life. Well, Susan is clearly independent. Roberta is less, but she eventually learns to be. It’s actually quite fascinating to see her evolution. Well, I think we can say that Desperately Seeking Susan is kind of a feminist movie.

Susan Seidelman and her actresses
Susan Seidelman and her actresses

“Good going stranger”. This line said by Madonna is probably the most famous of the film. “I don’t believe it”, comes back several times too. Seriously, they never “believe it” in this film! It’s a movie full of surprises, not only for us but also for the characters. 😉 The story is, in my opinion very creative and there are some great lines in the screenplay. Here are some of my favourites:

1- Leslie: I can’t believe the two of you are eating in the middle of a crisis like this.

Gary: We’re nervous, what do you want…

Leslie: Then take a Valium like a normal person.

2- Gary: Susan! What are you doing?!

Susan: I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?

3- Leslie: Everybody I know is desperate, except for you.

Roberta: I’m desperate.

Leslie: Ha!

Roberta: Well, sort of.

Madonna in the cab. Love her facial expression!
Madonna in the cab. Love her facial expression!

Finally, something we have to mention about this film is its great and entertaining soundtrack. A music that fits the film and it’s time period perfectly. Madonna’s success Into the Groove is the theme song. We can hear it in the scene where Susan meets Gary in a bar and during the ending credits. It’s one of my favourite songs from the Material Girl. I know it by heart. The video clip shows some part of the film and is a great enjoyment. I’ll let you watch it.

I also invite you to watch this 1984’s Madonna interview. She doesn’t only talk about the film, but she does. She gives her opinion about acting. It’s quite interesting.

Well, writing about this film is something I should have done before! Before I saw many classic films, it used to be part of my top 10. Now I think it might be part of the top 20. Just a really worth watching film. I even dressed up as Susan for Halloween a few years ago!

If you haven’t seen Desperately Seeking Susan, I hope this reading made you want to do so.

See you soon!


7 thoughts on “A Journey in the 80s: Desperately Seeking Susan

  1. The first time I saw ‘Desperately Seekeing Susan’, I was obsessed with Madonna! I wanted to be like her. This brings back great memories. Wonderful review, as always, Ginnie 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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