Music Movie Mondays: Desperately Seeking Susan
I chose Susan Seidelman’s 1985 classic Desperately Seeking Susan for a few reasons. Chief among them was my fandom. I saw the Madonna vehicle many times on Comedy Central during high school and college and was and remain charmed by it. As I opened the series with Michael Winterbottom’s 24-Hour Party People, another movie dear to my heart, I thought this would be a good bookend.
First of all, I enjoy Ann Magnuson‘s cameo as a cigarette girl who’s friends with the sought-after Susan enough that I’d wager Seidelman’s follow-up Magnuson vehicle, Making Mr. Right, warrants review if this series gets picked back up. I also enjoy anything that features Laurie Metcalf in any capacity.
Madonna’s involvement with the project of course intrigued me, especially since her role as the titular It girl echoed much of the downtown buzz she “borrowed” prior to her ascendancy as one of the 1980s’ major pop (and pop feminist) icons. As Lisa A. Lewis notes in Gender Politics and MTV, the movie’s interest in imitation and identification directly referenced how Madonna’s iconic style motivated a generation of Madonnabees adorned with outsized crucifix necklaces, drawn-on moles, and rubber bracelets. No surprise that playing a too-cool sylph with a mythogized past and second-hand credibility resulted in one of her strongest screen performances–in a supporting role, no less–from a surprisingly wooden actress. I’m sure Camille Paglia’s recent denouncement of Lady Gaga factors into a favorable reminder of the Material Girl’s past cultural supremacy, though for me it just further confirms that Paglia’s politics and musical tastes haven’t evolved past 1990.
But at its core, I’ve always enjoyed Desperately Seeking Susan as a very clever genre hybrid. It at once channels 40s screwball comedies, 50s film noir, buddy comedies, and romantic comedies while destabilizing all of these filmic points of reference. It recontextualizes it in suburban New Jersey and NYC. It also keeps Susan (Madonna) away from her bored housewife admirer Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), who briefly assumes her identity after a bout of amnesia while foregrounding their psychic connection. The movie abides by its Hays Code-era influences by giving each character male love interests, but as with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, there’s little doubt who’s in love with who in this production.
On a final note, tonight’s entry marks the close of the Music Movie Monday series with I Fry Mine in Butter. Before I take my leave, I’d like to say that it’s been a delight to share Web real estate with such a coterie of whip-smart pop culture critics. I’ll keep checking in here as a fan, and I do hope you’ll follow me back to my blog, Feminist Music Geek. Thanks!