Showgirls (1995)

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*. A movie that gets a lot of stick for being one of the worst ever made. This is way off. It’s not good, and it’s sometimes comically bad, but it’s nowhere near the level of “worst ever” awfulness. It has, among other positive attributes, a lot of energy, a decent sense of structure, an entire anthology of deathless lines, and a real innocence.
*. I think this final point is what Anthony Lane had in mind when he says that “there is not a whisper of satire in this picture . . . the dirty little secret of this movie [is that] it’s good clean fun.”
*. I like how Nomi is introduced to us through her luscious mouth: the way she licks her lips when getting picked up, or the way she almost seems ready to fellate her switchblade (just as she will later work her lollipop ring). And those lips! As Lane remarks, it looks like her lipstick is wearing lipstick. There are scenes where she looks like she’s holding on to a candy apple with her mouth. Then, when she gets to Vegas, we see her hungry mouth in action again as she keeps stuffing food in it — fast food, in the form of ginormous burgers, because she needs to cram as much of it in as quickly as possible. None of this is subtle, but it doesn’t require much acting on Elizabeth Berkley’s part. Instead it’s all done through choreography, wardrobe and make-up. Lots and lots of make-up.
*. So it’s not all bad. Rather, what I think makes the badness of Showgirls special is the way it just keeps getting better/worse with every re-viewing. The pleasure grows, and I honestly don’t know if there’s any end to enjoying its signature moments.
*. A ’90s remake of All About Eve? Or a distaff version of Scarface? Both, and then some. The world belongs to Nomi.
*. Does Las Vegas, or did Las Vegas, actually have floor shows like these? Why? Who went to see them? Roger Ebert mentions in his review that the Goddess show “seems inspired by actual Vegas productions,” but that’s an ambiguous comment. In any event, I can’t say because I’ve never been.
*. Henrietta the Queen of Bazooms has an absolutely terrible act. It’s full of awful material and she has no sense of delivery.
*. Kyle MacLachlan. I’ve seen actors embarassed or disinterested before, but I’ve never seen one who appears to be so downright disgusted with his role, or in himself for doing it. Lane again: “I got the feeling that he is trying to hide behind his long, curving forelock in the unactorly hope that he might not be recognized.”
*. The pool scene is famous for Berkley’s frantic orgasms, her wild throes suggesting someone had just thrown a large electric appliance into the water. But I think it has a point. Nomi is still performing, putting on a show. Does she ever enjoy sex in this movie? Can she? I think it was Paris Hilton who once remarked that she was a sexy person, but not sexual. This would seem to apply equally well to Nomi Malone.
*. I find the violent conclusion (that is, of Nomi’s revenge) jarring. One imagines Verhoeven and Eszterhas looking at one another and wondering how on earth to end such a film. Two hours in the can, but where was the climax? What was this movie all about? Just a young dancer making it? They needed an exclamation mark and so gave us a bit of bloody nonsense.
*. I don’t find the rape of Molly jarring. I actually think it belongs in the movie, underlining the seediness, exploitation and violence that the industry is built on. And the intercutting between the beautiful life of the dancers and the horrors going on upstairs is quite effective at making the same point: that the rape is showbiz. A star is a whore.
*. But after that the rest of the ending feels rushed. Quick scenes of vengeance and reconciliation are followed by an improbable highway pick-up and then . . . it’s off to Hollywood! Though the idea that Nomi would be doing anything there after just throwing over her job headlining a big show in Vegas is hard to figure. Or is she confident that everything that happened in Vegas will stay in Vegas?
*. Let’s hand out a bit of praise for Gina Gershon, who really owns her role as Cristal Connors. A medal would be in order. And I’m not going to knock Elizabeth Berkley’s dancing either. I think she does very well . . . when she’s dancing.

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*. And even though Berkley’s not a talented actor, it’s hard to think what a great actor would do with such a woefully written part. She’s sort of like Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky: you can’t see her being effective in any other role, but as Nomi she’s perfect.
*. How is Nomi to find love when all the men she is surrounded by are heels? James Smith is a hypocrite, a player, and a loser too, Zack is a phoney, Phil Newkirk is a slimey pimp, Al, the manager at Cheetah’s, is a lech, Marty Ross is a self-confessed prick. The guy with the pickup who picks her up is a con, Andrew Carver is a vicious rapist, and creepy Mr. Okida is from Bangkok! Get it?
*. The movie has been knocked for exploiting lesbians, but look at how awful the men are and then look at how the only people Nomi can connect with and love (in a fashion) are Molly and Cristal.
*. If there was monkey shit on the stage, wouldn’t the thing to do be to clean it up before the dancers went out? I think they could have managed at least that much at the Cheetah.
*. I know we can’t expect much in the way of consistency in a film like this, but how on earth does Molly go from breaking up with Nomi in such a dramatic fashion to showing up at the party later, an all-is-forgiven smile on her face, just so she can meet Andrew Carver? This seems an awfully fast turnaround.
*. Thirty years from now, will anyone still watch this movie? Or will it have become this generation’s Valley of the Dolls? I don’t know. But for now, let’s just re-live some of the magic, together.

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