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September 28, 2013

Weekend Reviews: Aesthetics, plot of '80s film appealing

The Daily Star

---- — The first time I saw “Desperately Seeking Susan,” I was 11. Sprawled across my best friend’s lap in my basement, still giddy from the obligatory sleepover sugar binge, I watched, mesmerized, as this wild and captivating film unfolded before me.

“Desperately Seeking Susan” follows the lives of two women, a housewife and a rebel, whose paths cross and lead them both on a journey of self-discovery. The movie begins and ends in the same idiosyncratic way: with the classified ads, New York City, circa 1985.

Susan (Madonna) is a promiscuous, law-breaking nomad, whose life lacks consistency — aside from her lover Jim (Robert Joy), a New York City local who repeatedly locates and reunites with Susan through the classified ads. Roberta Higgins (Rosanna Arquette), on the other hand, is a run-of-the-mill New Jersey housewife, stuck in a relationship where she is severely neglected. She finds solace in the classified ads, living vicariously through Susan and Jim’s spontaneity and romanticism.

As Roberta tracks the couple’s story, she becomes more and more entranced. She decides to arrange an anonymous meeting with Susan; but what she doesn’t realize is that Susan is involved in some shady, illegal business involving a mobster and a stolen Egyptian earring. Roberta suddenly finds herself caught in the middle of a robbery, a love triangle, a marriage affair and an identity theft, all at the same time.

However, what appealed to me most about “Desperately Seeking Susan” wasn’t the bold, fast-paced story line or the outrageous plot twists, but rather the visual elements of the film. Growing up, I have always had an interest in aesthetics. Fashion in particular became a large part of my life at a young age. My mom tells me that when I turned 3, I began to insist on dressing myself every day. Items such as sparkly red laceup boots and velvet pantsuits became staples in my wardrobe.

I think because of this, I found Madonna’s character, Susan, to be especially attractive. Her clothing in the film was grungy and sexy; a look I had never really seen before, and I was fascinated. I remember one scene in particular, where she goes into Roberta’s house, uninvited, and Roberta’s husband discovers her draped across a poolside lounge chair drinking red wine and wearing nothing but a black lace bra, men’s pinstriped boxer shorts, and aviator-style Ray-Bans.

Another aspect of the film that I found especially intriguing was how each scene moved from place to place within New York, and in doing so, perfectly captured the messy, mysterious aspects of city life. To me, that’s probably the No. 1 reason why this film is so distinct: its interesting and unusual settings. Locations such as one of the character’s apartments — a sparse, studio-flat with gray, rain-streaked windows, potted ferns, fluorescent lighting, and an entire wall devoted to a massive Japanese Samurai photograph — and the “Magic Club,” a metal-walled, 1950s-style nightclub featuring swanky cigarette girls, plush red carpets, and a blue, glowing rabbit that jumps out of a hat on the neon sign out front — epitomize the film’s quirky, artistic aesthetic and highlight the director’s attention to detail.

In a lot of ways, “Desperately Seeking Susan” has something for anyone and everyone. Its balance between quiet, sentimental scenes and action-packed pursuits allows for a broader variety of viewers. Last summer, my family and I rented the film on VHS while staying in a tiny Twin Peaks-esque town near Crater Lake in Oregon. Despite the movie’s reputation as being more of a “chick flick” (described by the director, Susan Seidelman, as having a “girls just want to have fun” sort of feel), my dad and older brother both admitted to enjoying it quite a bit.

Overall, I’d say if you’re a fan of the ‘80s vibe (which, seriously, who isn’t?), this is a perfect choice for you. The actors, scenery, and general style of “Desperately Seeking Susan” converge to create a genuinely unforgettable film that has remained, and will remain, one of my favorites for many years to come.

Katie Huntington is a junior at Oneonta High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at