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Film / Desperately Seeking Susan

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Desperately Seeking Susan is a 1985 American comedy-drama film directed by Susan Seidelman, starring Rosanna Arquette and Madonna.

It concerns Roberta (Arquette), a bored housewife from New Jersey who follows the saga of Susan (Madonna) and Jim (Robert Joy), two lovers who contact each other through the personal ads. Through a series of complicated events, Roberta is mistaken for Susan, who is being hunted by a criminal who wants some earrings she stole. When Roberta hits her head she gets amnesia, and when a friend of Jim named Dez (Aidan Quinn) mistakes her for Susan, Roberta goes along with it. And that's just the beginning of the story...

This film provides examples of:

  • The '80s: Susan in particular rocks an extremely Eighties-tastic wardrobe. Because she wears Susan's clothes for a big part of the movie, Roberta by extension does this as well.
  • And Starring: Madonna as Susan.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Roberta and Gary are both unhappy together, mostly due to finding each other boring.
  • Celebrity Paradox: In the nightclub scene, Susan dances to "In the Groove" by...Madonna (the song she made for the film, no less).
  • Comically Missing the Point: This exchange between Gary and Roberta:
    Gary: What are you wearing?
    Roberta: A jacket. It used to belong to Jimi Hendrix.
    Gary: You bought a used jacket? What are we, poor?
  • Contrived Coincidence: The events that lead to Roberta to believe she's Susan are quite convoluted. from getting Easy Amnesia by banging her head on a pole while she just so happens to be wearing Susan's leather jacket and meeting Dez right after who just so happens to have never met Susan and mistaking Roberta for her.

  • Easy Amnesia: Roberta loses her memory when she bangs her head on a pole. She regains it when she hits her head on the ground.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Roberta is introduced idly reading the personals while having a hair done while Susan is introduced taking a photograph of herself on the floor of a messy hotel room.
  • Establishing Character Music: Roberta is introduced to "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" by Betty Everett (or "One Fine Day" by The Chiffons outside the US) and Susan is introduced to "Urgent" by Foreigner.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: A marijuana variation. One scene has Susan and Gary sharing what looks like a machine-rolled tobacco cigarette. However, their reactions are exactly what one would expect from smoking marijuana.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Roberta saves Susan by knocking Nolan out with a bottle when he takes the latter hostage.
  • Housewife: Roberta is a bored steryotipical housewife of The '80s who's trapped in a unhappy marriage and longs for more adventure and drama in her life.
  • Identity Amnesia: Roberta gets amnesia and starts to think she is Susan.
  • Injury Bookend: Roberta falls and hits her head early in the film, giving her amnesia and prompting her belief that she's Susan. Partway through she falls and hits her head again in the same way, restoring her memory.
  • Jerkass: Although Susan is fairly affable and doesn't seem to be deliberately malicious, her callous behavior and constant mooching off or taking advantage of everyone she meets puts her more in this trope than Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • MacGuffin: The Egyptian earrings that Susan steals.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: After getting attacked by Nolan, Roberta gets her memory back, but is then arrested by the police who mistake her for a prostitute due to her clothing.
  • Mistaken Identity: Roberta is mistaken for Susan constantly throughout the movie.
  • Nice to the Waiter: In Susan's first scene, she acts polite to the hotel bellboy and gives him a nice tip shortly before departing.
  • Noodle Implements: In-universe when Roberta is mistakenly picked up for solicitation while carrying a cage of doves and put into a car with another prostitute, the other prostitute asks her, "What do you use the doves for?"
  • Noodle Incident: Some of the reasons why people chase Roberta-as-Susan off.
  • Of Course I Smoke: Roberta, suffering from amnesia and finding some cigarettes among "her" stuff, decides she must be a smoker and lights one up. Coughing ensues. (The tobacco company that had paid for the Product Placement asked for their money back.)
  • Place Worse Than Death: Susan doesn't have a high opinion of New Jersey, and when someone mistakes her for being dead she jokes she's "Just in New Jersey".
  • Ransacked Room: After bailing Roberta out of jail, Dez returns to his apartment with her, only to find it turned over by Nolan, who is looking for Susan.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: The film was developed into a stage musical that premiered at London's Novello Theatre on November 15, 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. Marino presented his solo comedy Desperately Seeking the Exit, which is based on his experiences, at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
  • Second-Face Smoke: While Susan is in the cell, a guard lights her cigarette, to which she blows smoke in the guard's face.
  • Sexy Surfacing Shot: One scene starts with Susan swimming in a pool in her underwear, followed by a close-up shot of her climbing out of the water via the pool's ladder.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Roberta has sex with Dez after getting her memory back, probably at least partly because she thought her husband was cheating on her (he actually was, but not in the circumstances she believed he was).
  • Tap on the Head: Roberta hits her head twice in the movie and suffers no damage aside from brief Easy Amnesia.
    • It's also how Roberta knocks out the guy who is chasing her and has caught up to Susan.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Roberta leaving the security guard's apartment (even when he told her to stay put), when Nolan was out there trying to kill her.
  • Verbing Nouny: The title Desperately Seeking Susan uses this formula.