Desperately Seeking Susan
July 29th, 2014
Todd: [claps hands to prepare] Okay, you know how I like bad pop star movies, right?
Todd (VO): 'Cause, you know, like, a lot of the time, they're movies that just shouldn't...be. They're star vehicles that don't exist for any reasons movies are supposed to exist; they only exist to stroke a famous person's ego, and that's it.
Todd: Well, who better emphasizes all that than the queen goddess of all bad pop star movies: Madonna.
Todd (VO): Who else was both a big enough presence that she was allowed to keep making awful movies, and fame-hungry enough that she refused to just stop making them? But which one of them to review? Which one of the seemingly hundreds of awful movies she made?
Todd: Well, here's an idea—how about all of them?
Todd (VO): This is gonna be like my Disneycember or History of Power Rangers. In between doing my regular reviews, I'm gonna try and sit down and watch every single movie Madonna has been in. Literally every single one. All of them, no exceptions.
Todd: Yes, I'm a masochist. Join me, won't you? Ladies and gentlemen, this is Cinemadonna.
- Clip plays of a 2003 Madonna GAP commercial, where Madonna sings an "Into the Groove" remix of "Hollywood", which serves as the intro for all episodes of Cinemadonna.
- Madonna: Everybody comes to Hollywood
- They wanna make it the neighborhood
Todd: Well, we're gonna start the series off right with Madonna's first attempt to transition into film stardom. Her first big movie—Desperately Seeking Susan.
- Film begins, with "Into the Groove" playing
- Madonna: Get into the groove
Todd (VO): Now, unlike most other Madonna movies, this one doesn't really have a bad reputation. People remember its name, it did decently at the box office, got pretty good reviews, and Madonna got good reviews for her performance. Madonna isn't even the star of this—she's, like, the third lead—but most people remember it as a Madonna movie regardless because she's the most memorable part of it. Madonna probably wouldn't have the momentum to make bad movie after bad movie if not for this one early success.
Todd: Which is really strange to me because, here's the God's honest truth. Desperately Seeking Susan is desperately boring.
Todd (VO): To be honest, you might as well start calling it Desperately Seeking Plot. But in retrospect, that's not fair; it has a ton of plot.
Todd: Way too much plot. Let me try and sum it up.
Todd (VO): Rosanna Arquette plays a bored, sad, meek, little housewife who live vicariously through reading other people's personal ads and wishing she were them. She's basically [brief image of...] Marie from Breaking Bad, she's probably not far away from shoplifting and stealing spoons. Meanwhile, Madonna's character starts setting up meetings with her boyfriend Jimmy through the personal ads whenever she's in town. I wasn't clear on why she couldn't just call him on the phone like a normal person, whatever.
- Roberta (Rosanna Arquette): They send messages back and forth, that's how they hook up. Now they're in New York.
Todd (VO): Yeah, Rosanna reads the ads so much, she's actually noticed this pattern. If this were any other movie, she might be a schizophrene, but yeah, she's right. And she goes to the meeting place and follows them around because she's just that bored and lonely.
Also important. In the first scene, Madonna steals some earrings from the last guy she was with, and that guy got killed by someone looking for those earrings because apparently, they're stolen Egyptian artifacts. And now the killer's after her, but she doesn't know why. And anyway, Madonna's got this godawful, butt-ugly jacket, [Arrow points to back of jacket with pyramid on back, text reads: ILLUMINATI!!] and she pawns it off, and Rosanna decides to buy it because it's 1985, and every [pictures of '80's girls looking like Madonna...] girl in America is trying to be [...and...] Madonna, including her. But Madonna left the earrings in a locker, and the key to the locker in her jacket, and when Rosanna tries to get it back to her, the killers come after her, and she bumps her head, and...
Todd: ...no shit, she gets amnesia.
- Roberta hits her head against a post, knocking her out'
- Dez (Aidan Quinn): [looking over her as she awakens] Susan. I'm Dez, I'm a friend of Jim's.
- Roberta: What happened?
Todd (VO): And she starts thinking she's Susan. And holy crap, this sounds crazy, right? This sounds like some wacky, madcap, screwball comedy. But here's the thing.
Todd: It's played completely straight.
Todd (VO): It's not, like, a farce or anything. It's fairly serious, and it has no momentum at all. For Christ's sakes, she just got goddamn amnesia. This should be a big moment, but it isn't. It just kinda happens. The whole movie is just stuff kinda happening; just meandering from spot to spot. [Dez and Roberta walk down an alley] It really is godawfully boring. Like, if you're gonna have a plot this...
Todd: ...stupid, it's gotta be packed with manic energy.
- Clip from Clue
- 'Wadsworth (Tim Curry): Mr. Boddy had been on the floor. He jumped up, the murderer came out of the secret panel, picked up the candlestick. Mr. Boddy followed us out of the study into the Hall, looking for an escape. The murderer crept up behind him and killed him!!
- Roberta: Is he tall? I mean Jim.
- Dez: He's about a medium.
- Roberta: Is he sorta thin?
- Dez: Sort of, sort of my build.
Todd has his head in his hands
Todd (VO): The worst offender is Aidan Quinn, who is the film's leading man. His character just shows the fuck up out of nowhere, which is the first problem. But the bigger issue is, he speaks with all the passion and energy of roadkill.
- Dez: First of all, I get thrown out on my ass on the sidewalk. Then I have to fork up $200 bail. You know, I really don't need this shit, Susan. I really don't.
- Roberta: Fine!
Todd (VO): Oh, my God, it's so slow. I feel like I'm watching those drunk Jeff Goldblum videos.
- Clip of Drunk Jeff Goldblum - Paypal Ad
- Jeff: The other day, I'm buying a chair while sitting in a chair. It's a funny story.
Todd (VO): Like, seriously, it's so slow, you half-expect Steven Wright to show up.
- Larry (Steven Wright): Gary?
- Gary (Mark Blum): Larry.
- Larry: Looks great. Any word from Roberta yet?
Todd (VO): So they try to figure out what's going on by...retracing her steps using the apparent billions of things Madonna left in her jacket. Like, if it was just meant to be silly, it'd be fine, but when it's this serious, you have to start thinking about plot holes.
Todd: She has amnesia, doesn't remember who she is? Well, why don't you just take her to the hospital? Or the cops? Duh!
- Roberta: Found this in the suitcase. You ever hear of it?
Todd (VO): She ends up at a magic show Madonna was at earlier, and...for...for reasons I don't understand for a second how this makes sense, she decides to take a job there as an assistant.
- Ray (John Turturro): You looking for a job?
- Roberta: Yeah. Yeah, I think I am.
- Ray: She thinks she's looking for a job.
- Roberta: No, no, I am, I am.
Todd (VO): What? And then at some point later, the killer's after her and she runs away. and bumps her head, and un-amnesias. [Roberta slips and hits her head on the sidewalk, knocking her out.] This must happen to her all the time.
Todd: Bonk! Who am I?! Bonk! Oh, right. Bonk! Who am I?!?!
Todd (VO): But even when she knows who she is, she decides to stay where she is. I...I don't see how that makes sense either. Like, she realized her husband was cheating on her, but you know, stick. Whatever. And then she arranges for everyone who knows her to meet her at the magic show, which she's still performing in for some reason. And then the killer's there too, and it turns into this whole thing. Wha?! How do curtains work? [Roberta knocks out the killer with a bottle] Bonk! And now he thinks he's Susan! I'm kidding.
Todd: And look, here's the big problem.
Todd (VO): The idea is she's sad and unfulfilled and wants an adventurous life like Madonna has, and then her dream comes true, she gets her adventure. But...but, you know, this is it? Performing in a dive bar magic show, sleeping in an empty apartment? This is the grand love story she wanted to star in? Romancing the Stone, this is not. I thought at the end of it, she'd learn there's no place like home; but no, at the end, she leaves her husband. And does what? I don't know. Live off alimony the rest of her life? Go sleep on the floor of Aidan Quinn's barren hovel? She doesn't have a job or skills or anything.
Todd: So why do people sorta, kinda remember this movie? Honestly, I think it's because...
Todd (VO): ...Madonna is, in fact, pretty good in this. She plays, like, this callous party girl who lives this crazy bohemian life, dating several guys at once, crashing wherever she can. [Susan dries her armpits with a hand dryer in a bathroom] Okay, seriously, wouldn't that just make you sweatier?
Anyway, I wish they actually told us what her deal is, but they never do. From what I can tell, she apparently lives a pretty interesting life among interesting people. Basically, the only time the movie comes to life is when Madonna starts dancing to a Madonna song. "Into the Groove" is Madonna's best song, for the record.
I wish there was more stuff like this. This movie is filled with enough gaudy colors and stupid outfits, it looks like Pee-Wee's Playhouse. But the film is so badly made otherwise, it never really looks attractive enough that we'd want Rosanna to experience it. And while she's trying to hunt down her jacket, she runs into Rosanna's husband and starts, you know, screwing up his life. You half-expect them to fall in love. Honestly, the only reason I think the film doesn't go there is because the husband is a horrible yuppie piece of shit. He did not deserve to bang Madonna in her prime; no one wanted to see that. And again, Madonna does turn in a pretty good performance. It also marks that brief moment in her career where she could play a street rat. Almost everything after this will play on the fact that she's the biggest superstar in the world.
So, yeah, mostly, I'd call this one a failure. But it got its moments, it's got fans, which is more than you can say for what's about to come after.
Todd: 'Cause after this, Madonna's gonna be in movies where she has the starring role. [Gives thumbs up] Stay tuned.
- Closing shot of Roberta and Susan in newspaper with headline reading: "What a Pair"
Closing tag song: Thomas Newman - "New York City by Day"
"Desperately Seeking Susan" is owned by Orion Pictures
Next up: Shanghai Surprise