You Don’t Nomi

Writer Haley Mlotek tells us that the infamous, 1995 Paul Verhoeven (director)/Joe Eszterhas (writer) NC-17 collaboration “Showgirls” ‘didn’t find an audience until it was mocked’ and that that mocking was what allowed it to be taken seriously.  She and others, like critic Adam Nayman, author of ‘It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls;’ April Kidwell of the theatrical tribute ‘I, Nomi;’ and drag performer Peaches Christ do just that while we view Verhoeven change his stance on his own film as public opinion does in director Jeffrey McHale’s “You Don’t Nomi.”

Laura's Review: B-

There have been documentaries about filmmakers galore.  There have been documentaries about the making of movies like Les Blanc's "Burden of Dreams" or Eleanor Copolla's "Hearts of Darkness."  There have been documentaries about movies that were never made like "Lost in La Mancha" and "Jodorowsky's Dune" or about movies that never saw the light of day like "Shirkers."  And there have been documentaries about film critics and film criticism ("Life Itself," "For the Love of Movies").  There are documentaries that analyze a particular movie like “78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene.”  Then there are documentaries about the reevaluation of a movie like “Waiting for Ishtar" and "Room 237."  “You Don’t Nomi” combines elements of these latter two subgenres and if your reaction to “Room 237” was to consider most of its talking heads looney tunes while still being entertained, you’re likely to have the same reaction, if to lesser extent, to this film.

The documentary begins with an amusing montage of the critical snark which greeted the film upon its release, culminating with the Razzie Awards declaring it the worst movie of the decade.  “Showgirls” followed Elizabeth Berkeley’s Nomi as she hitchhiked into Las Vegas determined to become a dancer, got a job at a strip club, and made friends of the best and worst kinds before leaving in fancier duds than the ones she came in.  The film’s bad acting, copious nudity and bizarre dialogue have caused it to be reevaluated as a true camp classic, a claim Peaches Christ expounds upon.

That’s an easy one to buy, illustrated by the clips of such infamous scenes as Berkeley and Gina Gershon (one of the few to escape unscathed) discussing their nails and mutual love of Purina dog chow and the thrashing, mechanical pool sex between Berkeley and Kyle MacLachlan.  But then come the claims of ‘misunderstood masterpiece,’ supported by such analysis as repeated themes within the film (continual references to potato chips and brown rice and veggies) and within Verhoeven’s filmography (vomiting, cinematic compositions).  An analysis of an outdoor café scene between Berkeley and Gershon in which the actress’s position within the frame is reversed during a shot-reverse shot sequence is declared a genius bit of filmmaking that ‘declares the women equals.’  These arguments are far more difficult to accept, as is a reevaluation of Berkeley’s acting bolstered by an essay declaring Susan Cabot’s “Wasp Woman” performance the greatest of all time.  A comment attributing her over the top performance to Verhoeven’s direction is far more reasonable, although it is quite revelatory to revisit her ‘Saved by the Bell’s’ caffeine pill addiction meltdown as Jessie Spano, which suggests otherwise.  Also of note is an examination of how the Stardust’s outrageous Goddess musical extravaganza contains a ‘history of musicals.’  There is a struggle to recast “Showgirl’s” ugly rape scene as justifiable because of Nomi’s ‘female warrior’ revenge on its perpetrator.

Those now declaring the film brilliant satire have a lot more to work with, especially when comparing the film to Verhoeven’s earlier Dutch works, but the fact is that the director regarded the film as serious drama when it was made, only to change his tune when these theories began to be floated, furthering the camp argument instead.  A lot of the film’s running time is given over to April Kidwell’s two parodist theater shows based on both “Showgirls” and ‘Saved by the Bell.’  The documentary closes with a well attended outdoor screening of the film introduced by a grateful Berkeley, who treats the crowd to Nomi’s signature jazzy hand swish.

Like “Room 237,” “You Don’t Nomi” may not convince with some of its outrageous claims, but it is an entertaining look back at a notorious cinema flop that was bad in all the right ways.

Robin's Review: C+

In 1995, Hollywood history was made – good or bad – with the Paul Verhoeven/Joe Eszterhas collaboration, “Showgirls.” Since then, the film has been lambasted as a piece of s**t and lauded as a misunderstood masterpiece. We get both sides of this controversy in “You Don’t Nomi.”

Director-editor-producer Jeffrey McHale makes his feature documentary debut with what starts out as fun analysis of what some may call one of the worst Hollywood films ever. McHale assembles a bevy of folks, including Verhoeven and Eszterhas and the film critics who panned the film when released, and starts out giving both sides their view.

The filmmaker does is build a case that “Showgirls” was not an unmitigated disaster and box office flop, but a centerpiece of feminine liberation. This, I think, is a bridge too far. The movie IS bad. It manipulates and titillates and does its best to appeal to the prurient interests of the viewer. It also is hilarious. McHale puts many of the movie’s “highlights” up there for us to watch and fondly remember – like the pool sex scene.

If the above were the total of “You Don’t Nomi” and wrapped it up at that, the film would have received higher marks from me. But, at about the ¾ mark, McHale presents the parody, “Showgirls! The Musical,” starring April Kidwell. While it may be a very clever mimic of the original, way too much time is spent on the musical, losing the film’s good pace. The effect is to bring the well-flowing and clever documentary to a grinding halt, I’m sorry to say.

I have seen “Showgirls” at least twice all the way through and lots of times in pieces and, while it is a hoot of extreme camp and glitter, a great movie it is not. Jeffrey McHale brings us, mostly, an amusing look back in time to a movie that is treated more kindly today than then,