Showgirls is a 1995 film directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas. Those two worked on Basic Instinct (1992), a film that I appreciate a lot, and let me add that I have a soft spot for the Dutch director who has made a few movies that love since I was a teenager like Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990), and Starship Troopers (1997).
However, I was aware of the tremendous fame of Showgirls, a film which is commonly considered among the worst ever made (it also won a Razzie when it came out and the good Paul was the first director to ever receive that award in person) and it’s the film that killed the career of Elizabeth Berkley. It was also a box office bomb, even though later it made good money on video rental (that’s now called streaming).
Out of pure admiration for Verhoeven, I bought Showgirls in Bluray and I watched it. Ok. Let’s talk about it. One thing is clear right away: it’s by no means one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. There’s much, much worse stuff out there. It’s not a great movie either, I’m the first to admit it! In short, it’s worth a discussion.
Let me start from the plot. Nomi (Elizabeth Barkley – she justifies her absurd by saying that her mother was Italian, as if Nomi had anything to do with the Italian language) is looking for a better life and goes to Las Vegas to try to become a successful dancer. Luckily, she runs into Molly (Gina Ravera), a seamstress who works in a famous hotel, who helps her settle down. Nomi is beautiful and dances well, but only finds a job in a seedy topless bar run by rude Al (Robert Davi, one of the Fratellis of The Goonies, 1985). However, thanks to a love / hate / admiration relationship with the famous Crystal (Gina Gershon), who’s ten years older than her (and with the involvement of Crystal’s partner / agent Zack, Kyle McLachlan, that is Twin Peaks’ agent Cooper), Nomi achieves some success.
Let me stop here to avoid further spoilers, but practically the plot follows that of All About Eve (1950) but it takes place in Las Vegas so add cocaine and striptease to that. So the plot is nothing particularly revolutionary but it does its job. I think that there are two main problems with this film, and personally I have an additional one.
- First, the script is horrendous, and I’m thinking of the dialogues and the characters. It doesn’t bother me too much that all of the latter are negative (except Molly, and she doesn’t end up well at all), after all the intention of the film is clearly to show an ugly and sordid world. I’m complaining about the fact that the motives of most characters are obscure, they seem to act completely randomly, and the dialogues are cringeworthy. Glenn Plummer in particular has a lot of meaningless lines, I’m surprised that he managed to deliver them while maintaining some seriousness (for instance, what about the dialogue about fucking without fucking since everyone has AIDS? I’m clueless).
- Second, the protagonist is unbearable. Nomi is always angry, always over the top, always rude to everyone… why would everyone want to work with her or go out with her? And I get that she’s a person with a dramatic past, but that’s really too much. She’s always beyond a nervous breakdown, and it tires pretty quickly.
- And third, and I know this is my problem only, probably, there are far too many dance scenes and they all look the same to me. Plus, I don’t like all these fast moves and I don’t find them sexy despite the amount of asses and tits on display.
That said, I don’t understand why this movie has such a negative reception by audiences and critics alike. It’s a mediocre film, sure, but it also has some merits! For example, it shows realistically the world of Las Vegas (that I personally find horrible) and it does it well, probably thanks to Verhoeven’s European point of view who, as an external but attentive observer, manages to grasp all the contradictions and distortions of show business.
Verhoeven loves satire (think of the aforementioned Starship Troopers, for instance) and here he can do a lot about it! Showgirls seems to tell us that hypocrisy and hatred reign supreme in Las Vegas, and fun with girls can be bought easily with money, but it also comes at the cost of lives full of envy, suffering and anxiety. This part of the film is compelling, and it’s no coincidence that it’s based on more than 50 interviews with people from the Las Vegas scene on which the screenwriter based most of his characters and dialogue. Perhaps this desire to adhere to real facts led to a rambling, non-linear and not particularly coherent (nor credible) script?
What else… There isn’t much else, let me tell you. Even things that might have worked in a good movie, such as rape going unpunished because committed by a famous person, seem out of place in a story that perhaps tries to achieve too much and forgets to develop a good plot and to maintain the interest of the viewers.
To conclude, I don’t regret at all watching Showgirls: I don’t think it deserves its bad reputation! Was it so negatively received for showing a bad part of the United States and of the glistening Las Vegas? Who knows… Finally, although you probably know that already, if you want to see some female nudity (and Kyle McLachlan’s butt), this is the movie for you! Ciao!