By Christian DiMartino
Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls is a treasure. Actually, it isn’t. That being said, I love it. Not because it is a good film, but because it makes so many bizarre, terrible choices in terms of its dialogue and performances that it’s truly a marvelous, trashy trainwreck that you cannot take your eyes off of. The brilliantly titled and thoroughly entertaining documentary You Don’t Nomi, named in reference to the film’s hero, a childish, over-the-top and consistently angry young woman named Nomi Malone, dives into the mystique of Showgirls; why it so clearly failed upon its initial release, and why it has found new life years later.
As just mentioned, You Don’t Nomi is an exploration of Verhoeven’s NC-17 rated bomb, which is now a cult classic (and, in my eyes, for obvious reasons). Verhoeven’s film followed the aforementioned Malone (Elizabeth Berkley in her unfortunate film debut) as she heads to Vegas with dreams of stardom. She nabs a job at a strip club, and is soon discovered by an evil Vegas starlet named Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon). Connors and Malone have a rivalry from the minute they meet, but the two consistently try to compete against each other. In some cases, it’s because of the show they star in, in which Cristal is the star, but in other cases, it’s because of a man (Kyle MacLachlan).
Showgirls, in my eyes, is hilarious, and for one main reason: the screenplay. It’s not even that the story is bad, but the dialogue and the majority of the characters is so awkward, ridiculous, and over-the-top, and some of the dramatic elements and choices are so jarring that there is not other way to react to it other than with laughter. You Don’t Nomi works best whenever it does a play-by-play of just what went wrong. The film features voiceovers of authors and experts and listening to them discuss the strange, terrible choices made is definitely a treat, especially for those of us who know this movie too well. One interesting point made (and it couldn’t be more true) is how the African American characters in the story only exist to help Nomi’s dreams come true; another is how the female characters love talking about food (“I used to love doggy chow”) and their nails.
You Don’t Nomi also dives into Verhoeven, and how his filmmaking choices and fascinations seeped into Showgirls. Having not seen any of Verhoeven’s foreign films outside of Elle (a purely Verhoeven film), the ones shown here sure do look strange, but they make Verhoeven look stranger than I already thought he was. It also discusses how the film came to be, in that Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas struck trashy gold with Basic Instinct, and were basically given carte blanche to strike trashy gold once more (except they didn’t). Lastly, the film mentions why the film is a cult classic, and the legacy it has spawned, from books to plays to midnight screenings.
All of this is really entertaining and enjoyable, if you’re a Showgirls devotee like myself. Where You Don’t Nomi loses me though is whenever the authors and experts take their views of Showgirls a little too far. I love the movie out of irony; some of these people talk about it like it’s a genuine masterpiece and people “missed the point.” One of their observations, that the film is handsomely crafted and filmed, is an accurate point. But again, as someone who enjoys the film for its unintentional hilarity (compliments mostly to Berkley, who really shouldn’t be fully to blame here), perhaps hearing people undermine films like American Beauty and Forrest Gump in favor of defending Showgirls seemed like a bit of a stretch.
Love Showgirls or loathe it, or both, it’s pretty remarkable that a film this terrible is still being discussed more than a large majority of the films that have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in recent memory. Ridiculous as that thought may be, I dare you to deny it.