June 29, 2020
Street Date 7/21/20;
$27.97 DVD, $28.97 Blu-ray;
In general there are two types of movies that might have documentaries made about them generations after their release — the all-time classics, and the notoriously bad ones that now enjoy a certain cult status.
The subject of You Don’t Nomi falls decidedly in the latter category — director Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 bomb Showgirls. The punny title derives from the name of the main character, Nomi Malone — the amped up stripper with attitude played by Elizabeth Berkley in an attempt to shed her straight-laced reputation playing “Jessie” on “Saved by the Bell.”
The highly absorbing documentary isn’t so much an examination of the making of the film as it is a critical re-evaluation of it after a generation of reflection. To wit, how a pair of the most in-demand filmmakers in Hollywood in the early 1990s — Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, could produce the film the Razzies declared the worst of the decade, and whether it was the critical community that got it wrong.
The documentary seems to come down on the side that the critical drubbing was fair, but misplaced. Any critic can rip apart a bad film; the talented ones can appreciate the art of true dreck.
Director Jeffrey McHale cleverly juxtaposes some of the more outlandish scenes of Showgirls with similar scenes from other films spanning Verhoeven’s career, painting the portrait of a gifted satirist poking fun at his own audience for their desire for sex and violence. Showgirls, then, fits the Verhoeven milleu to a T — an over-the-top indictment of the culture of fame. After coming over from Europe, Verhoeven made a splash in Hollywood with popular sci-fi actioners such as 1987’s Robocop and 1990’s Total Recall, before veering into the realms of sex and noir with 1992’s Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Judging from the clips, the latter two are more in line with the sensibilities of Verhoeven’s European films.
Another segment hilariously shines the light on Berkley’s performance, tracing its roots back to her “Saved by the Bell” days and the infamous episode in which Jessie gets hooked on “caffeine” pills (since network censors at the time wouldn’t let a Saturday morning kids show depict characters using speed). Jessie, like Nomi, has an interest in dance, and one critic can’t help but see the constantly topless Nomi as something of an inversion of the budding feminist Jessie.
Another critic takes it a step further, and ties Jessie’s pill-popping days directly to the legacy of Nomi, claiming Showgirls is the completion of an all-time camp trilogy that includes 1967’s Valley of the Dolls (the dolls of the title being a euphemism for pills) and 1981’s Mommie Dearest.
Like Mommie Dearest and other cult classics such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Showgirls has become a staple of midnight showings and audience-participation screenings. One critic prominently featured in the movie is David Schmader, who has made such a career out of re-interpreting Showgirls as a camp classic that his recorded commentary appears on the actual Showgirls DVD and Blu-ray.
The film even spawned a parody stage musical, with the actress playing Nomi having cut her teeth as Jessie in an earlier “Saved by the Bell” stage farce.
To his credit, Verhoeven always seemed to embrace the film’s campy reputation, becoming the first filmmaker to actually show up to accept a Golden Raspberry award (Showgirls won a then-record seven Razzies for the 1995 film year, including Worst Picture and Worst Director).
Showgirls still ranks as the highest-grossing ‘NC-17’-rated film, at just over $20 million, and its cult following has made it a top-seller for MGM on home video. But overt sexual content wasn’t apparently what Hollywood wanted from Verhoeven, who revisited the sci-fi genre with his next two films — 1997’s Starship Troopers and 2000’s Hollow Man — before returning to Europe.