Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995)


Showgirls, directed by Paul Verhoeven (1995).

Score: I don’t care if it’s good or bad, I only know that I like it.

Showgirls. The flop that kicked Paul Verhoeven out of Hollywood. The reason there are no more NC-17 rated movies that get huge releases anymore. Verhoeven showed up to receive his Razzie. Almost universally made fun of. Fuck me sideways, I like this movie.

Showgirls tells the story of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), an aspiring dancer who hitchhikes to Las Vegas and claws, sleeps and backstabs her way to the top in a prestigious erotic show. Starting out penniless and relying on the kindness of strangers, then moving to stripping and lapdancing, she ends up landing a spot in “Goddess” because the star in it, Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), recognises a contender in Nomi pretty much like her younger self.

Showgirls is usually regarded as garbage for its over-the-top acting and idiotic characters, as well as the copious nudity and sleazy sexuality. Paul Verhoeven defended it as elegant in its twentieth anniversary and stated that it was supposed to be anti-erotic. The best description of it I’ve ever read of it is that it’s “a non-trashy film about trashy people”.

Verhoeven admits that he pushed Berkley to be over-the-top and to dance that way, and I honestly think it makes a lot of sense when you see her flailing her arms around like crazy, dancing like she fucks and fucking like she dances, and then the other characters falling all over her telling her she’s going to be a star. Maybe she’s supposed to dance poorly, but she’s still offered jobs because people see that she’s genuinely committed to being the star in a cheesy, sleazy erotic show and she will stop at nothing. Cristal and Zach are pretty honest to themselves as to what they really are, but Nomi is not. She thinks she’s making it really, really big. So in this sense I think all the glitter and cheesiness really apply and were good resources to use intentionally, they just flew over people’s heads.

But in the other hand it’s a pretty good excuse for defending a movie that came out wrong. You did it on purpose! It was supposed to be ironically bad! Some things are unintentionally hilarious, like Nomi making her French fries fly up in frustration, the smug smile on the face of the dancer that breaks the other dancer’s knee, and the infamous sex in the swimming pool scene. It looks like Nomi’s having a seizure and in fact it explains a lot about her dancing style. And it might amount to nothing to most people but I’m a sucker for the Goddess dance scenes, they feel very well lighted and shot.

Is it good or bad, then? The whole world seems to agree that it’s really bad, but I don’t really care anymore. You get to a point in life when you need to separate what’s good from what you like, because those do not always overlap. War and peace is probably great and I don’t feel like reading it and Showgirls is probably rubbish but I’m a sucker for it. I regret nothing.

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