It’s hard to believe that almost 30 years ago America was in the throes of a love affair with a spunky little upstart pop artist who burst out of the underground club scene and called herself by one mysterious name: Madonna.
Riding a wave of infectious pop hits and mastering the art of the newfound medium of the music video Madonna very quickly built the first floor of her empire on her look, attitude, confidence and charm. Her bra-baring and bangled body were on the cover of every magazine, every television screen and it was only a matter of time until she was set for conquering the biggest screen of all in movie theatres all over the world. At just the right moment in time Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan came around and captured a moment, and more importantly an icon, on film forever.
Seidelman herself had popped out of the underground film world in 1982 with a funky little film called Smithereens that chronicled a young woman’s voyage into the abyss of the New York City punk scene as she danced and romanced her way to infamy. So it seemed like a marriage made in heaven that Madonna would be hand-picked to star opposite Rosanna Arquette in Seidelman’s second film about a housewife named Roberta (Arquette) who, through some unfortunate amnesia and mix-ups, is mistaken for a free spirited NYC drifter (Madonna) named Susan who’s caught up in a jam herself. The film itself is a perfect 80’s romp and would’ve been decent with anyone cast in the lead roles (though extra kudos go to casting a young Aidan Quinn as a hot film projectionist who falls in love with the Susan side of Roberta) but as expected, Madonna steals the show and it’s not such a bad thing. With Madonna simply existing as “Susan” the young star becomes that person that a bored housewife would love to switch places with and walk a mile in her shoes, or in this case, her jacket.
But just as perfect as Madonna is as Susan (but really as Madonna) her role in Desperately Seeking Susan did an unfortunate thing for the rest of her acting career. It is from this point on that Madonna will never reach the high that she did as Susan because the film does such a great job of capturing not just the time period where Madonna ruled the world but actually casting her in cinematic wax forever as the Madonna that swept us all off of our feet with her spunk and joie de vivre. All of Madonna’s roles post-Susan aimed to turn Madonna into an “actress” who could encompass a variety of different women but sadly, in order to win over America’s cinematic hearts Madonna can only ever be herself.
Don’t cry for her though, Argentina, Desperately Seeking Susan works specifically for its unique time capsule charm just as much as the greatest Madonna video that ever existed. It also contains one of the greatest meta-cinematic scenes for an 80’s comedy when (in a moment of great cross promotion as well) we see Susan leaning up against a jukebox in a club, sipping a drink, as Madonna’s “Get Into The Groove” comes on and fills the room. Coyly trying to flirt with Roberta’s husband, who is looking for her, Susan convinces him to join her on the dance floor for a little story exposition. This scene is delicious in its own self awareness of the star that they got to play herself, playing herself as someone else while helping to find someone who is playing her, all while they dance to the soon to be iconic song by the star just playing herself.
Try not to get dizzy and just get into the groove and watch this awesome film.
- Keith Garcia, Programming Manager Denver Film Society