Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rosanna Arquette, Madonna, Aidan Quinn, Mark Blum, Robert Joy, Laurie Metcalf, Anna Levine, Will Patton, Peter Maloney, Steven Wright, John Turturro, Anne Carlisle, José Angel Santana, Giancarlo Esposito, Richard Hell, Rockets Redglare, Annie Golden, Richard Edson, Ann Magnuson, John Lurie, Victor Argo
Written by: Leora Barish
Directed by: Susan Seidelman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 104
Date: 03/29/1985

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Back Into the Groove

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What's most interesting about seeing Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan on Blu-ray in 2014 is just how gritty it is. At the time, it might have seemed like the product of MTV, slick and commercial and weightless, or perhaps a sly career move by Madonna and nothing more. But it still holds up as a solidly entertaining New York City screwball comedy with a lot of life and fun.

Madonna is interesting as the wandering, rebellious "Susan," but Rosanna Arquette was the true star, and rarely has an actress been as flat-out cute, and not just in a surface way. Her Roberta is sort of helpless and dreamy, and you want to dive into the movie and give her a big hug. Roberta is married, but has no romance in her life. Interestingly, her husband (Mark Blum), who is shown as one of the movie's negative characters, is the epitome of how the 1980s are viewed today: he's a hot tub salesman, successful, but for a very superficial reason. Even his name, "Gary Glass," is transparent.

To pass the time and spice up her life, Roberta reads the classifieds and becomes interested in Susan. Susan disappears from time to time and always gets back in touch with her boyfriend Jimmy (Robert Joy) through the personal ads. One time Roberta shows up at the time and place and sees Susan. In need of cash, Susan sells her signature jacket, and Roberta quickly buys it. At the next meeting, looking like Susan, Roberta suffers a blow and loses her memory. Jimmy's pal Dez (Aidan Quinn) picks her up, thinking it's Susan, and of course, they fall in love.

Also in this plot we have some stolen earrings and some dangerous bad guys who are trying to get them back. Director Seidelman somehow manages to balance this subplot without upsetting the rest of the film. The bad guys are neither bumbling idiots, nor are they so dangerous that they kill the mood. I think this is where the director's vision of New York City comes into play. Roberta finds herself in neighborhoods that she's unfamiliar with, dealing with trash, graffiti, dark alleys, and regular joes who are just trying to get by (sometimes not by the nicest of methods). To that end, there's a nice collection of New York types in the cast, sometimes in cameos, including Steven Wright, John Turturro, Giancarlo Esposito, Richard Hell, Rockets Redglare, Richard Edson, Ann Magnuson, John Lurie, and Victor Argo. I also like the fact that Dez's character is a movie theater projector, complete with reels of film all over his booth.

Yes, Desperately Seeking Susan has aged, but it has aged well. Even the scene in which Madonna dances to her own song, "Into the Groove," seems perfectly appropriate and not necessarily an attempt to sell records. It's not a movie about selling; it's a movie about becoming who you really are. Kino Lorber released the Blu-ray, which enhances the film grain and gritty look of the film in wonderful ways. It includes a commentary track by Seidelman and her producers, an alternate ending, and a trailer, as well as optional English subtitles.

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