Directed by: Jeffrey McHale | 92 minutes | documentary | Featuring: Matthew Baume, Jeffery Conway, Joshua Grannell, April Kidwell, Haley Mlotek, Adam Nayman, David Schmader, Elizabeth Berkley, Joe Eszterhas, Gina Gershon, Kyle MacLachlan, Paul Verhoeven, Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel
It was a rare big flop when it appeared in 1995: “Showgirls”. The erotic thriller by Paul Verhoeven – about aspiring dancer and stripper Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) who goes to Las Vegas – flopped enormously in the cinemas, and was razed to the ground by the press and public. More than once the film has been characterized as “vulgar”, “sexist” or simply “cringe-worthy”.
“Showgirls” would eventually “win” seven Razzies (plus a Razzie for Worst Picture of the Decade), and more than once ranked as one of the worst movies of all time. But the film also gained an unexpected cult status in the cinema after the flop: the rental and sale of videotapes raised more than 100 million dollars, and the campy character resulted in a slowly growing fan base.
Verhoeven saw the humor himself, and was not afraid to accept the countless Razzies (the “film awards” for the worst films that are awarded annually) for Worst Picture and Worst Director himself. This healthy dose of self-mockery certainly gave Verhoeven some extra (re-) appreciation, after the merciless flopping of “Showgirls” thundered him hard from his American pedestal (see classics such as “Robocop” and “Basic Instinct”).
About 25 years later, debuting director Jeffrey McHale decided it was high time for some extra appreciation for Verhoeven and “Showgirls”. Certainly, the film had already built up a new (cult) status here and there and several critics even called it an “misunderstood masterpiece”. For example, film critic Adam Nayman wrote the book It Doesn’t Suck, in which he explains that the film is much smarter and more profound than viewers and critics (at first) thought. The documentary “You Don” t Nomi “further explores what Verhoeven actually had in mind when making” Showgirls “. An anti-capitalist satire? A merciless portrait that breaks with all Hollywood clichés? Or simply an uncompromising break from The American Dream’s fable?
That reappraisal on which “You Don” t Nomi “relies is in any case a recurring phenomenon in Verhoeven’s career. The controversy surrounding possible homophobia in “Spetters” chased the Dutch to the United States, while “Starship Troopers” was also mercilessly put down by many (American) critics on appearance, but is now seen as a prophetic science fiction classic. The films were simply not read as they were intended: Verhoeven has always been a satirist pur sang who never hesitates to kick at sacred houses or the disfigured fantasy of the American Dream.
The satire was not picked up in a film like “Starship Troopers” until more than twenty years later, and several critics praised “Showgirls” for this satirical aspect all those years later. For example, film critic Michael Atkinson wrote that Verhoeven is “the bravest and most confident satirist in Hollywood, who makes genre films that no one knows if should be taken seriously.” The amount of nudity, sex and wooden dialogues caused “Showgirls” and Verhoeven to completely misunderstand the film, or not take it seriously enough.
It is therefore not surprising that McHale wanted to dive deeper into the film, where he mainly gives the floor to advocates of the film, combined with archive footage of the cast and crew. Contrary to the audience and journalism, McHale takes the film dead seriously. It provides an interesting look at what Verhoeven and the film actually had to say, in contrast to all the nudity and violence that give ‘Showgirls’ its infamous reputation.
Ultimately, “Showgirls”, like many of Verhoeven’s other work, turns out to be a totally misunderstood satire, and “You Don’t Nomi” succeeds in reviving the (unjustly) maligned cult classic. In short: never just blindly trust the harsh opinion of film critics (but of course in nine out of ten cases).