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MGM Studios DVD presents
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

"See, it all started with the personals. There was this ad for Susan—DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN."
- Roberta Glass (Rosanna Arquette)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: June 17, 2000

Stars: Rosanna Arquette, Madonna, Aidan Quinn
Other Stars: Robert Joy, Mark Blum
Director: Susan Seidelman

Manufacturer: Sunset Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (semi-nudity, adult situations, language)
Run Time: 01h:43m:30s
Release Date: June 13, 2000
UPC: 027616850799
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BA-B C+

DVD Review

Desperately Seeking Susan is a 1985 Orion comedy about Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), a bored housewife who begins following a series of intriguing personal-ad messages between musician "Jim" (Robert Joy) and free-spirited "Susan" (Madonna). Her attempt to sneak a peek at the "mystery couple" during one of their meetings leads her into amnesia, mistaken identity, and true romance with Jim's projectionist friend Des (Aidan Quinn.) A Mafioso thug, a pair of stolen Egyptian earrings, and a cheesy "Magic Club" figure into the proceedings that lead Roberta to discover her true Susan-esque self.

Solid performances are contributed by the cast, all of whom seem "real" and fully-developed; even Madonna (in her first major screen role) turns in a creative portrait of a free-loving, street-smart young woman. Steven Wright and Laurie Metcalf appear in supporting roles, and John Turturro plays a wonderfully seedy emcee at the "Magic Club," a back-alley establishment featuring mediocre variety acts where Roberta finds work as a magician's assistant. Mark Blum as Roberta's hot-tub-dealer husband manages to avoid the "bad spouse" stereotype—he has his flaws, and he's clearly wrong for her, but he isn't a total loss as a human being, and his performance helps balance the film's generally feminist perspective.

Director Susan Seidelman takes a naturalistic approach to the film's improbable plot, selling it by playing it straight. Filmed in New York City with production design by Woody Allen regular Santo Loquasto, the film has a stylishly lit "hard" look that helps anchor its more contrived devices. While the movie may have been written as a straightforward comedy, Seidelman doesn't go for guffaws here—she isn't afraid of pauses and contemplative moments, eschewing traditional comic "zaniness" for the sake of credible dramatics and character development. Desperately Seeking Susan is softer and more commercial than Seidelman's punk-edged debut film Smithereens—there are laughs here, and a happy ending, but this is a grown-up comedy which explores issues of identity and personal choice.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: MGM's Desperately Seeking Susan DVD features an anamorphic 1.85:1 original theatrical aspect ratio transfer as well as a Pan & Scan 1.33:1 version on the flipside. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is very nicely rendered, with solid black level, bright but not oversaturated color, and competent digital compression unfazed by the film's detailed fabric, wallpaper and fly-away 80's hairstyles. The source print is in fine condition, with just a few flecks in the clean, stable image, though (as is typical of 1980's movies) the overall look of the film is a bit soft. For those who care, the reformatted pan-and-scan transfer is competent, aside from the composition damage the film suffers in the process.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Desperately Seeking Susan is presented with its original monophonic soundtrack, cleanly digitized in 2-channel Dolby Digital (ProLogic-decoded to the center channel exclusively) with good bass content. The music and dialogue muddy each other in a few scenes, and the soundtrack's memorable 80's pop tunes are a bit disappointing in mono, though frequency range is solid. MGM's disc preserves the 1985 source very nicely, but ignores the opportunity for a wider, clearer remix that would have benefited the film enormously.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Alternate Endings
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Susan Seidelman, Sarah Pillsbury, Midge Sanford, Barbara Boyle
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: MGM provides a decent set of extras here. The title menu features full-motion video with music and captures the flavor of the film well, with 24 picture-menu chapter selections and subtitles in French and Spanish. Supplements are substantial but of mixed quality, including:

Alternate Ending

This selection presents the film's extended original ending sequence, never used because the shorter ending tested better with audiences. This version is several minutes longer with a different tone, emphasizing the relationship between Susan and Roberta by sending them off on a desert adventure sans boyfriends. It's a more complex, less romantic ending and interesting in its own right, though the workprint (from director Seidelman's personal archives) is in poor shape with faded color, muddy sound and a lot of dirt and wear. It's presented in 1.85:1 on both sides of the disc.


The film's original theatrical trailer is presented in a 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio, transferred reasonably well from a worn, soft-looking print. It's not a tremendously effective trailer, though it's funny in its own way—the beat-heavy 80's pop soundtrack, emphasis on bedroom scenes and self-conscious, awkwardly "sexy" tone of the female narrator's performance gives it the feel of a 1970's X-rated trailer.


An audio commentary track features director Susan Seidelman, producers Sarah Pillsbury and Midge Sanford, and executive producer Barbara Boyle. It's sometimes hard to tell who's speaking, and the monophonic recording has some echo and hiss. The track is dominated by the producers, who talk mostly about the development of the story/script and the business aspects of the production without much discussion of the filmmaking process. There are some interesting anecdotes about Madonna's involvement, but the commentary is generally self-congratulatory, slightly repetitious and light on "film scholar" content with few amusing stories. It might have been better to record a Producers' commentary with a separate Director's commentary; as it is, it's worth a listen but less informative than it could have been.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Desperately Seeking Susan is a well-made, substantial comedy that captures but transcends its mid-1980's milieu. The DVD is nicely mastered with more supplemental content than MGM usually provides, and its low retail price makes it a worthwhile purchase for fans of the film.


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