Often housewife Roberta Glass (Rosanna Arquette) will look at the personal ads in the newspaper and notice one which always starts, "Desperately Seeking Susan", and above all those others, this is the one which has her intrigued. Who could Susan be, and who is this "Jim" who desperately seeks her? Well, what Roberta doesn't know is that she is currently waking up in a hotel room where she has just spent the night with a shady character, not that she was fully aware of that, but she does pilfer the precious earrings her one night stand had in his pocket...
Which will be Susan's first mistake, although it certainly wasn't an error on Madonna's part, as this unassuming little film was released about the time she went ballistic in terms of a fame that never died away, and having a movie out where your growing numbers of fans could see you walk and talk just like a normal person was exactly what her career ordered. Not that this had been conceived as a vehicle for the pop star, as she had actually auditioned for the role as a relative unknown, picked out by director Susan Seidelman as the ideal actress to carry the mystery woman of the title, something another rising star reportedly came to resent.
That other rising star being Rosanna Arquette, who saw this shot at mainstream-ish success for her completely overshadowed by Madonna's supernova of renown. While Arquette's Roberta was the supposed focus of the story, what most people wanted to see was her co-star, so Madonna's screen time was increased and this became known as the Madonna movie rather than the Rosanna movie. Probably not helping her, but helping the singer, was that the Get into the Groove video was more widely seen than the film it came from, and as it featured mainly clips of Madonna, it's little wonder Arquette was edged out of her own movie.
As far as exposure went, anyway, because as ever she acquitted herself very well if you watched the film not as a vehicle for anyone, but as a straight, quirky comedy that wouldn't have caused many waves otherwise had it not been for that fortuitous casting. In many ways this is a very gentle film, where the laughs are more quiet chuckles and if anybody gets hurt, there are no real painful consequences to be suffered. This means that when Roberta goes to intercept one of the personal ads by showing up at the agreed location to catch a glimpse of Susan, she gets clonked on the head and a case of amnesia results, leading her to believe when she awakens that it is she who is Susan.
This is what gets her romantically involved with Des (Aidan Quinn), a far more appropriate partner for her than her actual husband Gary (Mark Blum), but with them both thinking she is Susan, something's gotta give eventually. All the while hot tub salesman Gary, whose commercial he delights in gathering his friends to watch (there's even a Spanish version!), is desperately seeking Roberta, which lands him in hot water with Susan, who is being stalked by a sinister (but still quirky) hitman (Will Patton) because those earrings she stole are rare Egyptian antiques, and... Well, you get the idea, and if everyone in the film is wrapped up in themselves, with very little to give to the audience, the theme of Roberta's newfound empowerment is strong enough to keep the accumulation of offbeat events rewarding. Madonna is the reason people stay with this, of course, and if she never got better in her acting she never got worse, with her eighties fashion sense well to the fore, perfectly fitting the time and place. Music by Thomas Newman.