Roberta Glass (played by Rosanna Arquette) is a suburban NYC housewife who is married to a hot tub salesman and considers her own life average, unexciting, even boring. She is a ‘50s housewife living in the ‘80s, which is a fitting symbol given the political climate of Reaganomics of the 1980s and the decade’s regressive social dogma which compelled women to give up their careers and return to the home and raising children as their main enterprise. In this spirit, Glass picks up the dry cleaning, makes dinner to Julia Child’s instructions and runs other domestic errands at the bequest of her husband. It’s a comfortably uncomfortable existence.
To spice up her life, Glass reads the daily personal ads in the newspaper (long before the internet and craigslist) to watch other people live in much the same way that other people read their daily horoscope to get a hint of how their own day will proceed. One ad in particular, titled “Desperately Seeking Susan,” strikes Glass as romantic and interesting: it is a request for two lovers to meet. She’s seen these ads directed at Susan before. This specific ad suggests a meeting place, and Glass decides to go to watch the lovers meet.
Susan (played by Madonna) and her boyfriend, Jim, do in fact rendezvous by the shore. Susan is the epitome of ‘80s-bohemian-gypsy-chic . It’s how we remember Madonna in the ‘80s, with too much make up and bracelets and underarm hair. This, in fact, is Madonna’s best acting, probably because it was closest to her persona at the time. Certainly, this is the only character played by Madonna that I ever found believable. I can cite to her work in “Body of Evidence,” “Swept Away” and a minor stint on “Will and Grace” as my sources.
After their brief, sea-side encounter, the two lovers go their separate ways. Glass follows Susan into a trendy thrift store where Susan trades her pyramid jacket for a pair of rad black boots. When Susan leaves the store, Glass buys Susan’s jacket from the store clerk. In a pocket, she finds a port authority locker key, sparking Glass to leave a “Desperately Seeking Susan” ad of her own in order to meet Susan under the guise of giving her the key.
Glass and Susan meet, again by the shore, but mayhem ensues and the two are separated. It seems that Susan is being stalked by one of Jim’s cohorts, as Susan unknowingly has a pair of expensive/antique earrings (Nefertiti earrings from the Cairo collection)in her midst. Suddenly, Glass is mistaken for Susan by the sinister stalker (played by a bleach-haired Will Patton ). She’s also mistaken for Susan by Jim’s other friend, Dez, a movie-reel attendant (played by Aiden Quinn) who Jim has sent to fetch Susan.
Even Glass thinks she’s the gypsy Susan after a head injury renders her with amnesia. She steps into a position as a magician’s assistant and into blossoming love with Dez. It’s a mad-cap misadventure with a happy ending, and as such, the movie is a harmless romp back to the ‘80s and one that will spark some gentle memories of our time spent there. I can recommend watching it on a rainy Sunday to remind us of ‘80s wardrobe, hair styles, and the music soundtrack playing in the background, and also how Madonna actually came to prominence.
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