Picks and Pans Review: Desperately Seeking Susan

UPDATED 04/08/1985 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 04/08/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

In this class-clash comedy Rosanna (Baby, It's You) Arquette, a frustrated Fort Lee, N.J. housewife whose husband runs a hot tub business, drives an expensive car with the plates TUB N SPA. You can judge a comedy by the cleverness of its license plates, and by that standard, as well as most others, Desperately Seeking Susan has a fresh and funky perspective. Like its co-star, rock diva Madonna, Susan is a material girl of a movie. It can't get enough crazy props, odd gadgets and bright pink doodads. For that matter, newcomer Leora Barish's script is overdressed to kill an audience. Incorporating amnesia, mistaken identity, stolen artifacts, stalking hit men and suburban social lives (all in the first reel), the movie nearly asphyxiates on its plot twists. When Arquette becomes involved with a hipster, played by Madonna, she inadvertently assumes Madonna's identity. Arquette takes up with a likable guy in the East Village, while Madonna bamboozles her way into Arquette's suburban sanctuary. Director Susan Seidelman takes much too long to get the peculiar rhythms of her movie percolating. And for a castigation of the status quo, Susan conforms to lots of conventional plot devices. At times the film comes off like the first punk sitcom. But Seidelman, whose first movie was the $80,000 Smithereens, has graduated to the big leagues with grace (Susan reportedly cost $5 million); she hasn't cashed in her counterculture temperament. She has made that rare creation—a comedy that possesses the moral ambiguity of an arresting drama. Susan has a screwy sensibility fueled by an appreciation of atmosphere and a kooky code of honor. Seidelman isn't hipper-than-thou, either: Madonna, the coolest character, is the most dishonest. She fabricates murder accusations without batting an eyelash. Fortunately, Arquette has a goofy grace that makes her role's implausibilities palatable. Making her acting debut, Madonna appears completely at ease, perhaps because the part form-fits her persona. Whether or not Madonna can act, she certainly is a presence, which Seidelman exploits. In fact Seidelman has cast wisely right down to the walk-ons. It's hard to resist a movie that contains such diverse talents as deadpan comedian Steven Wright, singer Iris Chacon (a/k/a the "Puerto Rican Dolly Parton") and Lina Wertmuller's favorite jail matron, Shirley Stoler. Watching Desperately Seeking Susan is like attending a terrific loft party. It's different, it's infectious and you never know whom you'll run into next. (PG-13)

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