Jeffrey McHale explores the circuitous route the NC-17 flop took from Razzie shame to midnight fame.
In 1995, one of the most notorious box office bombs was released to the movie going public. The controversy began even before the first frame was shown at the premiere. A record breaking $3.7 million script, coupled with getting an NC-17 rating on purpose, made headlines in the Hollywood trade papers and mainstream press alike. After release, critics gushed over how bad it was, with Siskel saying “Is it sexy? Not when you’re laughing.” Audiences were equally disinterested, with the $45 million film only earning $37.8 million back. This fiasco was, of course, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls.
But 25 years after its evisceration by the press, and a lackluster response from the moviegoing public, Showgirls found itself to be an object of adoration for cult film fans. You Don’t Nomi looks at the change in critical reception over the years, and asks the audience to reconsider what was named the “Worst Movie of the ‘90s” by the Razzie Awards. Director/writer Jeffrey McHale combines commentary from film critics and Showgirls devotees, including Northwestern film professor Jeffrey Sconce; David Schmader, who provided the commentary on the Showgirls DVD/Blu-Ray; and film critic Haley Mlotek.
Most importantly, Adam Nayman (author of It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls) lends the film his commentary, as well as its structure. Like Nayman’s book, McHale’s documentary is separated into three sections, detailing the film’s reception on release, the rise of Showgirls as a cult film, and finally a segment where the critics reevaluate the film.
This isn’t a documentary about the making of Showgirls, nor is it a look back from the cast and crew; the only interviews with the people who made Showgirls are purely archival. You Don’t Nomi is exclusively about Showgirls’ life after its initial flop. It’s also a love letter to the campy dazzle and group fun found in cult classics. In this focus on one film, McHale performs an almost anthropological study on the ways cult movies can impact the people who love them.
It’s weird to think that a film that took home six Razzies could be this life changing, but You Don’t Nomi has stories on how their fandom helped launch long running projects for Peaches Chris and David Schmader. Most dramatically, April Kidwell talks about how playing Nomi in Showgirls: The Musical helped her deal with the trauma of being a rape survivor.
Lest you fear that a documentary consisting primarily of film criticism would be dry, McHale’s use of movie clips for 90% of the visuals keep things interesting. Most clips are from Showgirls or other Verhoeven films. Moments where McHale edits characters like Robocop reacting to footage of Nomi dancing add humor and visual appeal while listening to someone talk about the movie. But the documentary is most effective when the clips give greater context to Showgirls. As Schmader talks about Showgirls’ obsessions with nails, clips from other Verhoeven films featuring women’s nail play on screen. This type of detail gives You Don’t Nomi a feeling of greater legitimacy as an object of film criticism.
In this focus on one film, McHale performs an almost anthropological study on the ways cult movies can impact the people who love them.
One sticking point for a wider audience enjoying You Don’t Nomi is that it seems to be squarely aimed at fans of the campy masterpiece, there’s little explanation of Showgirls’ plot to help the uninitiated. Many of the clips from Showgirls feature as a “greatest hits,” and superfans (including yours truly) will find it hard not to scream along to “Different places!” or “You don’t know shit!” It’s also a little one sided in the critics McHale choses to feature.
While there is some criticism of the misogyny in Showgirls, there is little criticism that stands by the initial reaction that Showgirls is just plain bad. San Francisco Examiner film critic Barbara Shulgasser-Parker is the lone dissenting voice, standing by her original appraisal of the movie in 1995.
You Don’t Nomi taps into the same gleeful fun of its subject matter. It’s raucous and ridiculous in a way that makes it ripe for a group viewing. The bright visuals and clever editing lend it a Vegas showmanship, but the excellent commentary shows it’s not just ersatz charm. Even if you’re not already a fan of Nomi and company, this is a perfect documentary to sit down to after you’ve painted your nails. Grab some chips and enjoy! After all, it doesn’t suck.