‘You Don’t Nomi’ Deconstructs Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Showgirls’

Posted on July 20, 2020
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In 1995, director Paul Verhoeven’s salacious “Showgirls” — a nasty, over-the-top sex-and-sadism filled exploration of the trials and tribulations of a young woman who hitchhikes to Las Vegas to make it as a chorus girl — opened with an NC-17 rating and alienated literally every film critic in the country. The film was trounced in reviews and died at the boxoffice. Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas had a falling out and star Elizabeth Berkley (who played the lead, Nomi Malone), fresh off the bland TV series “Saved by the Bell,” was dropped by her agent and was pretty much blacklisted in Hollywood.

However, because of its notoriety, “Showgirls” was a success on home video; since its release it has amassed north of $100 million. In the intervening years, “Showgirls” has become a cult classic, and has been re-evaluated as more than just a sensational, trashy nudie exploitation film, transcending the “so-bad-it’s-good” category. The film has been defended by such critics as J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Even Jacques Rivette, founder of the French New Wave, piped in, calling it in 1998 “one of the great American films of the last few years” for its unflinching look at the dark side of the entertainment world: “it’s about surviving in a world populated by assholes.” Even Berkley’s career picked up; she went on to star in dozens of Broadway productions — to critical raves — and carved out scores of roles on TV.

Iphoto for You Don't Nomin the new documentary “You Don’t Nomi” (2019), a chorus of film critics and fervent devotees explore the complicated afterlife of the film, from its disastrous release to cult adoration and extraordinary redemption. The film features Adam Nayman (“Vice Guide to Film”) and Peaches Christ (who hosts midnight screenings in San Francisco) as well as archive interview footage with the cast and crew. If you haven’t yet seen “Showgirls,” this documentary is a great introduction to it. It’s fast-paced and well-balanced, deconstructing “Showgirls” with supporters and naysayers alike.

Director Jeffrey McHale intersperses clips from other Verhoeven movies to place “Showgirls” in the context of the director’s ouvre (most of his films have contained vibrant scenes of sex and violence (“Turkish Delight,” “Katie Tippel,” “RoboCop,” “Total Recall” and the notorious “Basic Instinct”) as well as centering it among other sex-oriented big screen productions (“Fatal Attraction” among them). And there’s plenty of footage from midnight showings. Unfortunately, there’s no modern interviews with Verhoeven, Eszterhas, Berkley or co-stars Kyle MacLachlan and Gina Gershon (both of whose careers have flourished, thank you). All in all it’s a fun adventure. On DVD, Blu-ray, from RLJE Films. 92 minutes. Check out the film’s website here.


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