Desperately Seeking Susan or Calling All Madonna Wannabes Part 1

10 Apr

Madonna may not be in the news as much now as she was in 1985, but she still manages to make headlines.  One film in particular that might accurately reflect Madonna’s mating personality/style is the Susan Seidelman classic, Desperately Seeking Susan.  This film is about mistaken identity, a bit of crime (including murder), and Madonna, well, being Madonna.  Ironically, it is far more about Roberta learning how to let go of herself and become a free-spirit but the film ‘feels’ like Madonna appears in it far more than she actually does.

Notice at no point have I used the genre term, comedy in order to describe this film.  This is how Orion marketed the film, and as a young teenage girl, I didn’t give it a second thought.  I, like many other young teenage girls, wanted to go see Madonna in her latest incarnation:  Susan, a fun-loving trollop (if one is going to be honest about her character).   The interesting thing about Susan’s character was that she constantly cheated on her boyfriend, Jim, and he would come back for more, advertising for her in the personals.  One had to wonder…was this the state of relationships to come?  Could any woman abuse men’s trust, admit they have spent the week with another man and still have a boyfriend want to stay?  Maybe not for everyone but it certainly must have made an impression on Madonna!

Watching the film in 2008, I realized this film really wasn’t a comedy.  It is really a film about two women finding a place for themselves in the mid 1980s.  Susan (Madonna) is a ‘free-spirit’.  We watch as she steals money, silverware and a pair of large, gaudy earrings from a man she’s spent the night with (at this point we don’t know how long they’ve been holed up together) in an Atlantic City hotel.  Her act of stealing the earrings (we will soon learn they are stolen ancient Egyptian artifacts) are a direct cause of her friend’s (and I use that term loosely) death.  The theft also causes the mob to look for Susan.

At the time Susan is wrecking havoc in New Jersey and New York, Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), a housewife, is celebrating her birthday at a party that looks like it could take place at a retirement village.  While Roberta has money, she doesn’t actually have a life.  She’s a glorified errand-runner for her husband.  I started getting depressed as I contemplated how dull Roberta’s life must have been.

While I won’t bore you of a blow-by-blow account of this pleasurable quest for identity, I will point out that while you watch and hopefully analyze this film (like any active viewer should), you will see three parallels drawn between Roberta and Susan.  They share Susan’s jacket, her possessions, and even the stolen earring.  They are two halves of a whole.  As soon as Roberta stops being Roberta the housewife and starts being Susan, she attracts a less successful but much nicer mate, Des (Adian Quinn).  And, once Susan discovers who Roberta is, she ‘moves in’ to her house and appropriates her possessions, including her clothes, to make them more Susan-appropriate.  When the two women finally do meet, in one of the final scenes of the film, they are able to conquer the mob together.  This bonding of female friendship and teamwork sets a different tone for their lives.  And, hopefully an inspiration to those watching this little gem.

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