Written by Sooz Kempner

Arts

Rated or Dated: Showgirls

Paul Verhoeven’s infamous film is 20 years old today. Over to you, Sooz Kempner.

Elizabeth Berkley as NomiWhat and why: What do you get if you cross All About Eve with endless nudity? Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven’s so-bad-it’s-good movie. As the film turns the big 2-0, has it aged like Kyle MacLachlan’s career or Elizabeth Berkley’s?

Rated or dated: The only way I can accurately convey the magic of this movie is with a detailed plot summary.

We open on our heroine, the aptly-named Nomi (no, me!), played by Berkley in her first role since Saved by the Bell. And BOY is she trying to prove that she can play with the grown-ups. Her opening gambit is to pull a knife on the sleazy guy who picked her up hitchhiking and it’s the first of many weirdly aggressive acts.

Not that it matters; everyone is inexplicably drawn to her no matter how poorly she treats them. Case in point: Nomi’s suitcase gets stolen by said sleazy guy and the film’s only sympathetic character, Molly, takes pity on her. I have zero clue why because Nomi is punching Molly’s car (seriously) in anguish and when she intervenes Nomi runs into traffic.

Molly pulls her out of traffic and Nomi vomits. I’m serious, guys, that happens. They hug and Molly buys Nomi a basket of French fries. Nomi aggressively throws the fries in the air because Molly asks where she’s from. Molly says Nomi can move in with her. Why? Because Showgirls.

“Kyle MacLachlan is charmed by how stupid and bitchy Nomi is and takes her back to his place for pool sex. I can’t accurately describe what goes on in the pool but Nomi’s abs must be really strong.”

Cut to six weeks later and Molly and Nomi are getting along just fine in Molly’s one-bedroom trailer. Fun fact: in 1995, Joe Eszterhas’ screenplay for Showgirls was the most expensive script ever sold. Watching how he reckons two women alone interact means the $2 million spent on the screenplay (SERIOUSLY) can only have been a money laundering scheme.

Molly strips down to her matching underwear set while they giggle that all the crisps are gone, which is what girls do when they live together. Nomi can’t be arsed to go to work so she goes with Molly to her job as a seamstress at the Stardust casino’s topless dance show. The show is… well, it’s something.

Showgirls dance routineThe amount of nudity in Showgirls is legendary. Berkley is topless for probably a third of her screentime but the first nudity we get is from Gina Gershon – our antagonist, Cristal – who emerges topless from a volcano. Nomi watches, mimicking the dance moves. I also mimic the dance moves. All the time. The dance moves in this film are insane.

After the show Molly takes Nomi to meet Cristal. Cristal doesn’t show Nomi maximum respect so Nomi flips out. Like everyone in this movie, Cristal immediately gets obsessed with her and I should probably talk about the acting. Showgirls is a tacky exploitation flick and I feel like Gershon totally gets that. I feel like Berkley really didn’t; it’s as if she thinks she’s in a serious gritty takedown of the entertainment industry.

To cheer Nomi up, she and Molly go to a nightclub. A character called James instantly takes a liking to Nomi and tells her he could teach her to dance. She responds by kneeing him in the goolies and starts a massive fight, leading to her arrest. Naturally. James bails her out of jail (because Showgirls) and asks her to go for coffee. She tells him to “back off, motherfucker.” Our loveable protagonist, ladies and gents!

“Fun fact: in 1995, Joe Eszterhas’ screenplay for Showgirls was the most expensive script ever sold. Watching how he reckons two women alone interact means the $2 million spent on the screenplay can only have been a money laundering scheme.”

Now it’s time to see Nomi at work: the Cheetah stripclub. The club’s compere (stripclubs have comperes, guys, this is Showgirls) Henrietta will blow your mind. She empowers women by going out on stage and telling the baying crowd that she’s really fat and none of them want to have sex with her. Nomi does her extremely aggressive strip and who is in the crowd? None other than Cristal, flanked by Kyle MacLachlan. He’s the entertainment manager at the Stardust or something. I don’t know. She offers Nomi $500 to give MacLachlan a solo lap-dance. What follows is Jessie from Saved by the Bell going full frontal and flailing around on MacLachlan like a dolphin until he, fully clothed, proper jizzes.

I should tell you that nothing in this film is ever sexy. Oh, and James, the guy who bailed Nomi out of jail earlier, watches the whole thing from the doorway. Why are you there James? It doesn’t matter. Showgirls.

The next day James rocks up at Molly and Nomi’s trailer (nobody asks how he found out where they live). He says she shouldn’t do that lap-dancing stuff because “man, everybody got AIDS and shit”. Remember guys, this script cost $2 million.

Nomi and Molly go shopping with her lap-dancing money and Nomi buys a dress from Versace. She gets an audition for the Stardust’s topless show. The audition scene is incredible. Nomi is asked to put ice on her nipples and runs away. Who is outside? Why James of course! Nomi goes back to James’s house and they sexy-dance, then Nomi says she’s on her period and leaves. I think we’re meant to think Nomi will end up with James eventually but, like virtually every storyline in this film, it grinds to a woolly halt.

Cristal and NomiNomi gets the job at the Stardust (what!?) and goes straight back to James’s house to tell him. He’s there with another girl. Oh James! End of subplot. What purpose did James serve? We’ll never know.

Nomi has a fairly successful first night at the Stardust show. She goes out for lunch with Cristal and they bond over the fact they both used to eat dog food. I… just have no idea, sorry. Cristal dances with Nomi and calls her a whore. This means war, apparently. Nomi wears her Versace dress to work and keeps pronouncing it ‘Ver-sayce’ because apparently that’s believable.

MacLachlan is charmed by how stupid and bitchy she is and takes her back to his place for pool sex. I can’t accurately describe what goes on in the pool but Nomi’s abs must be really strong.

Back at the Stardust, Nomi finally has enough of Cristal and pushes her down a flight of stairs. Woah, Nomi, dafuq!? Molly is the only one who saw what Nomi did and can’t forgive her. Nomi replaces Cristal as the star of the topless dance show and Kyle MacLachlan throws her a massive party. He buys her a metallic blue pleather jacket and miniskirt set. I know Showgirls is 20 years old but I’m pretty sure metallic blue pleather was always heinous.

At the party is a famous rock singer called Andrew Carver, Molly’s pin-up. Nomi tells Molly that Carver will be at the party and Molly instantly forgives her and they are BFFs again. What’s that? Another subplot that went nowhere? Well I’ll be damned!

Molly goes with Carver to a bedroom and is totally DTF and then, in a tonal shift so enormous you could see it from space, there is a really brutal gang-rape. It is such a WTF moment. Molly goes to hospital and MacLachlan tells Nomi she can’t go to the police coz Carver is his bezzie. He says if Nomi tells the police he’ll spill the beans on her real past – she was an actual prostitute!

Nomi decides she’d rather take matters into her own hands so she paints her nipples bright pink (I’m not kidding) and goes to see Carver. She kicks his head in, while topless. She goes to Molly and says, “I kicked the shit out of him” and smiles as if to say, “There you go, it’s like it never happened” and then immediately leaves town when her friend probably really needed her.

Nomi hitch-hikingWell, she doesn’t leave immediately: first she goes to see Cristal in hospital. They have a massive snog and then Nomi hitchhikes again. Who picks her up? The sleaze who stole her suitcase. What are the odds!?!?! “What did you win?” he asks Nomi. She takes off her sunglasses and answers “me”. End of movie. What does she mean? Never mind… that’s Showgirls.

So, rated or dated? Let’s face it, I just ragged on this film for more than 1,000 words. It’s one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. The writing is awful, the tone is all over the place and it looks gaudy and cheap. And it’s totally rated. Guys, you’ve got to see this flick. It is hands-down one of the most watchable pieces of trash in the whole of cinema. Get a bunch of friends round and have a Showgirls party.

But remember… everybody got AIDS and shit.

@SoozUK

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Written by Sooz Kempner

Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.