A documentary about the legacy of ‘Showgirls’ made by fans for fans, ‘You Don’t Nomi’ is a cutting re-examination of what might be a misunderstood masterpiece.
When Showgirls was released in 1995 as the first mainstream NC-17 release, hopes were high. Paul Verhoeven was coming off of the success of Basic Instinct three years prior, and the rising stars of Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkeley were matched with the already well-liked Kyle MacLachlan in what appeared to be a sexy and thrilling drama. Instead, audiences sat in shock as they watched one of the most critically reviled films of the past thirty years, an at times laughably bad work that is somehow one of the least sexy films audiences had ever seen.
And then, things changed.
You Don’t Nomi is a documentary that retraces the steps of Showgirls and why a film that won multiple Razzies is still beloved by audiences today. Held in high regard by many queer audiences and by bad film lovers of all kind, the critical reclamation of Showgirls is hard to describe. Is it a mess that’s fun to mock? Or is it a misunderstood masterpiece? Or perhaps it is some middle area between the two?
Director Jeffrey McHale seems to intentionally avoid interviewing people who were actually involved with the making of the film. He uses excerpts from interviews with Verhoeven and clips of Berkeley talking about the film both in the 90s and today, but for the most part, his interview subjects are all fans of Showgirls who feel like it deserves a better reputation. It builds to a wonderful tapestry of every possible read on Showgirls, from a successful satire of the entertainment industry akin to A Star is Born or All About Eve, to considering it a camp classic along the lines of Rocky Horror. Each take on the film feels more and more revealing and forced me to consider my own love of Showgirls. When I first saw Showgirls I knew it was something special, a movie so bad that it was good. I’ve since shown it to friends and watched it half a dozen times, each time gaining something new. It is a queer staple and a midnight movie for the ages. But why do I like it?
That is where You Don’t Nomi comes in. If you have seen and enjoyed Showgirls, than You Don’t Nomi is an at times academic look at the legacy of the film, also incorporating some of the best clips into the story as well. Multiple fans and scholars of Showgirls parse why an infamous lap dance scene is so compelling, for example. It puts the audience in the hot seat, making them consider what exactly the movie is they are enjoying.
For example, Showgirls was notorious for ending the career of Berkeley, a talented young actress who was forced into giving a mess of a performance by Verhoeven. Yet You Don’t Nomi works as a form of career rehab for Berkeley, making her performance seem not just entertaining but actively engaging. This documentary turns a laughing stock of a role into one that might have just been criminally misunderstood… much like Showgirls itself.
I cannot speak to what You Don’t Nomi will do for people who have never seen Showgirls. Much like the similar film Room 237 that looks at the legacy of The Shining, it is a documentary as much about why the viewer would even watch that documentary as it is about the film itself. And much like the fellow Razzie awarded film The Shining, Showgirls has tempted audiences for years since. And You Don’t Nomi is finally here to give credence to those temptations, an annotation of the bible of schlock that is Showgirls.
You Don’t Nomi premiered April 27th at the Tribeca Film Festival.