Director: Rico Martinez
Screenwriters: Rico Martinez

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


Seedy and sardonic, Desperate charts a course through the pop obsessions of the past two decades, as experienced by a pair of perpetual losers, Troy and Tina aka Tanya aka Tan-Yah, who hustle every angle for their respective fifteen minutes of fame. This dark comedy follows the couple’s mental, social and financial decline through a hardcore series of fashion and cultural trends: from disco, pyramid scams, punk rock and heavy metal to collagen injections, liposuction, steroids, method acting, lip-syncing and celebrity weight training. Martinez’s skittish camera isolates the pair amidst the sordid clutter of their cumulative misadventures, transforming them into victims of their ambitions and delusions. The characters they encounter along the rocky road are sly composites of garish Americana, filtered through a cloying kaleidoscope. Episodic, yet relatively straightforward, the narrative is mannered, so that it embraces kitschy nuances in accordance with the filmmaker’s desire “to make films that are somewhere in between Valley of the Dolls, Saturday Night Fever, and Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising,” and in deference to his inspirations: Burt Bacharach, The Germs, Madonna, Tom Jones, Aretha Franklin, Black Flag and Dusty Springfield. Director Martinez summarizes Desperate best by calling it “a pseudoautobiographical dramatization of a semipathetic life. She [Tina] felt she was beyond the semitragic, pseudodramatic, fake history of her desperate life. A desperate life filled with makeover, faux passion, and bogus dreams. A life so desperate—it begged to be reenacted.”

— Marian Luntz

Screening Details

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