plug: You Don't Nomi (2020)

“We’re still talking about Showgirls because we’re not done with it.”

I’m always game for a good documentary about a movie. You Don’t Nomi, the new doc about Paul Verhoeven’s notorious NC-17 “trashterpiece” Showgirls, ranks among the best of them.

Taking a similar approach as Room 237 did with the cottage industry of conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, You Don’t Nomi looks at Showgirls from every possible angle — chronicling the circumstances and main players of the making of the film, its fraught release and critical backlash, and the varying, passionate schools of thought (and multiple cult followings) that have bubbled up around the film in the intervening two and a half decades.

Director Paul Verhoeven and star Elizabeth Berkley on the set of Showgirls (1995)

From the outset of You Don’t Nomi, it’s clear that your mileage may vary on Showgirls depending on where and when it’s intersected with you in your life. If you were around when it came out you may mostly remember it as an NC-17-rated piece of shit that was almost unanimously considered the worst movie of the year, maybe even the decade. If you’re a casual fan of other Paul Verhoeven films like Robocop or Starship Troopers, it may be a source of mild-to-nagging curiosity. If you’re a passionate film critic like Adam Nayman, author of It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls and one of the film’s many interview subjects, you may see Showgirls as a “stealth masterpiece” that also contains a magic, singular unintentional humor. And if you’re a member of the LGTBQ community or a fan of midnight movies, Showgirls is a cult film you’ve claimed for yourself in defiance of the traditional arbiters of good taste.

A live midnight-performance of Showgirls

Point is, Showgirls is one of those special movies that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and that alone makes it worthy of the time, care, and deep analysis that You Don’t Nomi gives it.

In her review of You Don’t Nomi for Nightmarish Conjurings, Breanna Whipple frames Showgirls as another Verhoeven film that’s “bathed deeply in satire while simultaneously mirroring the uncomfortable realities of western culture.” This is pretty much how I see Showgirls, both as a Verhoeven stan and lover of beautiful trash. It amounts to something too weird and delightful to fit completely in the “so bad it’s good” category, but it’s also too trashy to be the “prestige drama” that the cast and crew may have thought they were making at the time. You Don’t Nomi gets this, and in painting a comprehensive portrait of Showgirls from various angles, some flattering others not so much, it captures the essence of the movie and challenges the ways we watch and think about movies in general.

“That’s one of the main things I would just love for people to take away from it,” says You Don’t Nomi director Jeffrey McHale. “The way in which we consume media and the way that we discuss it and what’s considered bad, as well as what do we deem as a success and what do we deem as a failure. There’s so much in here that Showgirls specifically lends itself to for those kinds of conversations. Something like this just draws you in for multiple revisits and it’s a new experience every time. I just hope that people look at what current culture, current media and TV, and other writings are showcasing in regards to talking about the way in which we criticize things.”

You Don't Nomi (Amazon)