Desperately Seeking Susan

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Desperately Seeking Susan
Desperately Seeking Susan movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySusan Seidelman
Written by
  • Leora Barish
Produced bySarah Pillsbury
Midge Sanford
CinematographyEdward Lachman
Edited byAndrew Mondshein
Music byThomas Newman
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • March 29, 1985 (1985-03-29)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$27.3 million (US)[2]

Desperately Seeking Susan is a 1985 American comedy-drama film directed by Susan Seidelman and starring Rosanna Arquette, Aidan Quinn and Madonna. Set in New York City, the plot involves the interaction between two women – a bored housewife and a bohemian drifter – linked by various messages in the personals section of a newspaper.

The film was Madonna's first major screen role and also provided early roles for a number of other well-known performers, such as John Turturro, Giancarlo Esposito, Laurie Metcalf and Steven Wright. The screenplay was written by Leora Barish, and is said to have been given an uncredited rewrite by Craig Bolotin.[3] Desperately Seeking Susan was a commercial success and ended as the fifth-highest grossing film of the year grossing $27.3 million in the United States.[4] The film received predominantly positive reviews,[4] and both Arquette and Madonna's acting were critically acclaimed.[5] The New York Times named it one of the ten best films of 1985.


Roberta Glass, an unfulfilled housewife in Fort Lee, New Jersey, is fascinated by messages between lovers Susan Thomas and Jim Dandy in the personals section of a New York City tabloid, particularly a column from Jim with the headline “Desperately Seeking Susan”, seeking a rendezvous in Battery Park. In an Atlantic City hotel, the itinerant Susan reads the column after a tryst with mobster Bruce Meeker. She steals a pair of ornate Egyptian earrings from his coat before departing; the sinister Wayne Nolan notices Susan's embellished tuxedo jacket as she leaves. Arriving in New York City, Susan dons one of the earrings, stashing the other in her suitcase in a Port Authority locker. She asks to stay with her friend Crystal, a magician's assistant at the Magic Club, and learns Meeker was killed at the hotel.

Hoping to spot the lovers, Roberta goes to Battery Park and sees Jim reunite with Susan before leaving with his band for Buffalo. Roberta follows Susan to a vintage store, watching her trade in her jacket before losing sight of her, and buys the jacket. Finding Susan's locker key in the pocket of the jacket, she posts another “Desperately Seeking Susan” column to meet with her to return it. Concerned about the column and Susan's connection to Meeker's death, Jim asks his best friend Dez to check on her.

Waiting for Susan at Battery Park and wearing her jacket, Roberta is accosted by Nolan, mistaking her for Susan because she's blonde and wearing the distinctive jacket. Susan spots Roberta, but can't reach her as police chase her for not paying her taxicab fare. Dez arrives on a moped and rescues Roberta, who falls and hits her head, losing her memory and her bag. Dez believes she is Susan and, finding the locker key, he takes her to the Port Authority to collect Susan's suitcase. She finds the other earring, and Dez says she can stay at his apartment for one night.

Believing she must be Susan, Roberta retraces Susan's steps with Nolan in pursuit. She arrives at the Magic Club – narrowly missing Susan, who has been released from jail and discovered her suitcase gone – and is hired as Crystal's replacement. After Roberta's disastrous first performance, Nolan attacks her, demanding the earrings, but he escapes as the police arrive. Roberta hits her head again, regaining her memory, but is mistaken for a prostitute and arrested.

Meanwhile, searching for Roberta, her husband Gary, who is revealed to be in the midst of a casual affair, finds his way to the vintage store and is put in touch with Susan, who believes Roberta and Dez are connected to Meeker's death and want to frame her. Susan arranges to meet Gary at a dance club and accompanies him home, where they get high. Roberta calls from jail, but hangs up when Susan and Gary answer. After calling Dez to bail her out, they find his apartment ransacked by Nolan, and sleep together.

At Gary's house, Susan sees a television report about Meeker and Nolan having stolen the earrings, once belonging to Nefertiti. She realizes the truth from Roberta's diary, and posts a column to meet her at the Magic Club. Dez attacks an intruder in his apartment who turns out to be Jim, and confesses to his relationship with “Susan” as Roberta slips away. She reads the column, as do Jim and Dez; they arrive at the Magic Club, along with Gary, his sister Leslie, and Nolan. During her act, Roberta recognizes Nolan, who escapes backstage. Dez leaves as Roberta tries to explain the events of her disappearance to Gary, finally voicing her unhappiness and ending their marriage. Nolan threatens Susan at gunpoint, but is knocked out by Roberta. There, Roberta and Susan finally meet each other for the first time.

Later, Roberta finds Dez in a projection booth at the movie theater where he works. She introduces herself once again and they kiss, as Jim and Susan reunite in the theater below. The closing frames show Roberta and Susan celebrated as heroes in the newspaper and credited with returning the stolen earrings.


Seidelman employed a wide range of artists in small appearances, including comedian Rockets Redglare as a taxi driver; former member of the Shirts Annie Golden as a band singer; performance artist Ann Magnuson as a cigarette girl; musician and painter John Lurie as the neighbor saxophonist; La Mama and Living Theatre member Shirley Stoler as a jail matron; Ambitious Lovers member Arto Lindsay as the newspaper clerk who places the "seeking" ads; and future Seinfeld-writer Carol Leifer as a party guest. Other notable appearances include actors Richard Edson as a man with newspapers, Victor Argo as Sgt. Taskal, Kim Chan as a park bum, and Michael Badalucco as a guy from Brooklyn. Triplets Eddy, David and Robert make an uncredited cameo as themselves.


The filmmakers initially wanted Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn to play Roberta and Susan, but the director decided to cast newcomers Arquette and Madonna instead and the studio wanted the movie to have younger actors in order to appeal to younger filmgoers. Bruce Willis was up for the role of Dez and Melanie Griffith was up for the role of Susan. Madonna barely obtained the role over Ellen Barkin and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Suzanne Vega also auditioned for the role.

The Statue of Liberty can be seen in the movie when it was still covered in scaffolding during its two-year renovation. Costume designer Santo Loquasto designed Susan's distinctive jacket (supposedly first worn by Jimi Hendrix), basis of the plot of mistaken identity.

The movie was inspired in part by the movie Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Céline and Julie Go Boating) (1974).[6] It also has an alternate ending included on the DVD, in which Susan and Roberta are invited to Egypt after helping return the earrings. They are depicted next to the pyramids on camels. Seidelman cut this scene, saying that it was unnecessary and audiences at the test screenings thought the film should have already ended much earlier (as explained on the DVD). The science fiction film The Time Travelers (1964) is playing in scenes 6 and 23 (melts at the movie's ending). All the scenes featuring Dez working as a projectionist were filmed at Bleecker Street Cinema. The scene with Roberta and Gary in their kitchen shows Roberta watching Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940).

The movie was filmed during the late summer and early fall of 1984, early in Madonna's rise to popularity, and was intended to be an R-rated feature. After the success of her 1984–85 hits "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl" from her Like a Virgin album, the movie was trimmed in content by Orion Pictures to get a PG-13 rating in order to also market the film to Madonna's teenage fanbase.[7]

The interior and exterior shots of The Magic Club were filmed at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.[8] Some scenes were filmed at Danceteria, a club that Madonna frequented and which gave her a start in the music business.

Separated-at-birth triplets Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman have a cameo role, reportedly at Madonna's personal invitation.[9]


The soundtrack was released on both vinyl and CD together with the soundtrack to the film Making Mr. Right.[10] The soundtrack does not feature any of the other songs in the film including Madonna's "Into the Groove", which can be found on the European 1985 re-release of Like a Virgin. The film captures the feel of the underground Bohemian/new wave scene of the early to mid-1980s New York City, a scene that helped Madonna get her big break in the music business. Madonna recorded a song for the movie, titled "Desperately Seeking Susan". It ended up not being used in the film, and a demo she just finished at the time called "Into the Groove" was used instead. The demo version can only be heard in the movie. The song was a huge commercial success but was not included on the film's soundtrack, despite being heard in the film, because licensing restrictions involving Madonna's record label prohibited her songs from being mixed in with other artists. The video for "Into the Groove" consists of clips from the film compiled by Doug Dowdle of Parallax Productions.

All music is composed by Thomas Newman.

Desperately Seeking Susan
1."Leave Atlantic City!"2:33
2."Port Authority by Night"1:14
3."New York City by Day"1:06
4."Through the Viewscope"0:40
5."St. Mark's Place"1:30
6."A Key and a Picture Of"1:22
7."Battery Park / Amnesia"1:06
8."Jail / Port Authority by Day"2:22
10."Running With Birds in Cages"1:11
11."Trouble Almost"0:43

Critical reception[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has rating of 84% based on 31 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads; "Desperately Seeking Susan works with its fairy tale depiction of New York and the fun, frothy chemistry generated by its two leads."[11] On Metacritic it has a score of 71% based on reviews from 16 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[12]

In her review for The New Yorker, critic Pauline Kael referred to Madonna as "an indolent, trampy goddess."[13][14] The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby named the film as one of the 10 best films of 1985.[15] Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 stars out of a possible 4, saying it was essentially a screwball comedy, which "bopped around New York, introducing us to unforgettable characters".[16]

Rosanna Arquette won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Roberta; that the award was for a "supporting role" reflected the surge in popularity that Madonna was experiencing at the time, since in terms of billing, number of scenes, lines of dialogue, and plot, Arquette was the film's lead. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. Madonna also received positive reviews for her portrayal of Susan.[16] In 2022, Rolling Stone named it the 67th greatest movie of the 80s, calling it "a classic of its particular era".[17]

Box office[edit]

The film was released on March 29, 1985 in the United States, and grossed $1,526,098 in its first weekend. It was a commercial success, making $27,398,584 in the United States.[18] The film was released on September 6, 1985 in the United Kingdom, and grossed £1,175,133 in its first weekend. Its total gross in the United Kingdom was £2,331,907.[19] It also became the most successful Orion Pictures film in Europe at that point.[20]

Stage musical[edit]

The film was developed into a stage musical that premiered at London's Novello Theatre on November 15, 2007, following previews from October 16, 2007. It features music and lyrics by Blondie and Deborah Harry, including a new song written especially for the show. The production was directed by Angus Jackson, with book and concept by Peter Michael Marino and sets and costumes by Tim Hatley. Produced by Susan Gallin, Ron Kastner, Mark Rubinstein and Old Vic productions, the musical starred Emma Williams as Susan, Kelly Price as Roberta, and Steven Houghton as Alex.[21] Marino presented his solo comedy Desperately Seeking the Exit, which is based on his experiences, at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.[22][23]


  1. ^ Barbara, Quart (1989). "3 American Women Directors". Susan Seidelman. Women Directors The Emergence of a New Cinema. ABC-CLIO. p. 65. Retrieved January 17, 2022.
  2. ^ "Desperately Seeking Susan". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  3. ^ "March 1985: Madonna Goes Hollywood with 'Desperately Seeking Susan'". Totally 80's. Retrieved October 10, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Rettenmund, Matthew (1995). Desperately Seeking Susan. Encyclopedia Madonnica. St. Martin's Press. p. 48. Retrieved January 16, 2022.
  5. ^ King, Norman (1991). "10". The Wannabes. Madonna. William Morrow and Company. p. 103. Retrieved January 17, 2022.
  6. ^ Austin, Guy (2008). Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction By Guy Austin (2nd ed.). New York City: Manchester University Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-7190-4610-0. Retrieved February 4, 2015 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ "Brief Reviews". New York. New York Media: New York Media. May 27, 1985. p. 111.
  8. ^ Peyser, Michael (September 24, 2010). Desperately Seeking Susan 25: Sarah Pillsbury & Michael Peyser on the Magic Club. YouTube. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016.
  9. ^ Stewart, Sara (January 23, 2018). "These Triplets Were Separated at Birth for a Sick Scientific Experiment". New York Post. New York City: New York Media.
  10. ^ "Thomas Newman / Chaz Jankel* – Desperately Seeking Susan / Making Mr. Right (The Films of Susan Seidelman: Original Motion Picture Soundtracks)". Discogs.
  11. ^ "Desperately Seeking Susan". Rotten Tomatoes. San Francisco, California: Fandango Media. Retrieved August 29, 2021.
  12. ^ "Desperately Seeking Susan". Metacritic.
  13. ^ Amis, Martin (May 2, 1995). Visiting Mrs. Nabokov: And Other Excursions. New York City: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0679757931. Retrieved February 4, 2015 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Taraborrell, J. Randy (2001). Madonna: An Intimate Biography. New York City: Simon & Schuster. p. 86. ISBN 0-7432-2880-4. Retrieved February 4, 2015 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 16, 2007). "Movie Answer Man". Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago, Illinois: Sun-Times Media. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007 – via
  16. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (March 29, 1985). "Desperately Seeking Susan". Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago, Illinois: Sun-Times Media. Retrieved December 18, 2021 – via
  17. ^ "The 100 Greatest Movies of the 1980s". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 2, 2022.
  18. ^ "Desperately Seeking Susan".
  19. ^ "Desperately Seeking Susan".
  20. ^ "Videlips Help WEA Push: 'Madonna Month' in Europe" (PDF). Billboard. Vol. 97, no. 41. October 12, 1985. p. 9. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  21. ^ Blincoe, Nicholas (November 15, 2007). "Desperately Seeking Susan + Blondie = a painful performance". The Guardian. London, England.
  22. ^ Stephen, Phyllis (August 8, 2013). "Fringe performers react against the critics – with tomatoes!". The Edinburgh Reporter.
  23. ^ "'Desperately Seeking Susan' Turns 30: An Oral History of the Downtown Classic!". The Edinburgh Reporter. March 27, 2015.

External links[edit]