In 1995, a film premiered that shocked audiences, not for its content, but its quality. Promoted as the next great Hollywood spectacle, Showgirls was massacred by critics and flopped at the box office. It also tragically killed star Elizabeth Berkley’s burgeoning career. Over the years, though, it found a devoted audience of fans willing to look beyond its flaws and enjoy the movie on its own merits. By blending critic and fan commentary with a visual collage of film clips and behind the scenes footage, filmmaker Jeffrey McHale gives us insight into the $45 million dollar movie that became an unexpected midnight favorite.
“…outsiders and outcasts who continue to find strength in the film’s protagonist…”
Building on a string of remembrances about the film’s debut, You Don’t Nomi begins with a blend of critic loathing and cynical mockery. There are those laughing at the acting and those still vehemently disgusted by the exploitative qualities inherent to its subject’s premise. People question the motivations of director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas, who were Hollywood’s most valuable assets after Basic Instinct, only to seemingly throw it all out the window to make this “amateurish” schlock. Eventually, though, the narrative shifts to the film’s true audience, the outsiders and outcasts who continue to find strength in the film’s protagonist Nomi Malone. Finally, we understand that one person’s failure is another’s triumph and that every weakness we may perceive in the movie’s production is strength to these die-hard fans.
Through his compelling structure, McHale unravels the mystery behind this albatross and forces us to question our own ideas about this cinematic oddity. Much like Room 237, opposing ideas come together to give a multi-faceted analysis of what was thought to be a throwaway picture, only this isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s passionate memories and impressions telling a story. Most importantly, every lover or hater of Showgirls has a completely different take on what it all means.
“…it’s okay to deeply love something that most other people loathe.”
Strangely, though, there’s one viewpoint that nobody else seems to have. Imagine that the events in the film take place in David Lynch’s universe. Suddenly, it’s no longer campy schlock, but a bizarre art film that shows us just how seedy and filthy the American perception of glamor is. When paired with Verhoeven’s beautiful visual style, it becomes a twisted art film filled with melodrama and tits.
While far from a straightforward documentary about a widely marginalized film, You Don’t Nomi reminds us that it’s okay to like things with rough edges, that streamlined perfection is overrated and, more than anything, it’s okay to deeply love something that most other people loathe. For many, Showgirls is a symbol of their individuality. How many other films can boast such an important role in people’s lives?
You Don’t Nomi (2019) Directed by Jeffrey McHale. Written by Jeffrey McHale. Starring Peaches Christ, Jeffery Conway, April Kidwell, Haley Mlotek, Adam Nayman and David Schmader. You Don’t Nomi screened at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars