One of the absolute monoliths in the world of cult classics, Showgirls opened on this day in 1995. Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve thought a lot about why I love Showgirls so much and I’ve come to realize it’s basically this: life is a big, epic, chaotic mess and the film masterfully, hilariously, and unflinchingly reflects this. There’s something deeply human about Nomi Malone’s journey through the bright lights and eye-opening immorality of the Vegas Strip.
In my circle of friends, online and IRL, I happily lay claim to the role of Showgirls defender and apologist. My friend Breanna from Heavy Horror is also helplessly, irrationally in love with Paul Verhoeven’s misunderstood cult classic. Those of us who love it are tired of having to defend it and ourselves. We’re over it. We just love the movie, and if you don’t, that’s cool too. In my experience, fans of this movie are lovely, passionate folks with high integrity and excellent taste. Looks like I just low-key complimented myself, oops!
There’s so much to say about this wonderful, lowbrow piece of pop trash. Much of it’s been said in recent years online, at festivals, in Adam Nayman’s book It Doesn’t Suck, and in the documentary You Don’t Nomi. I’ve written about why I love it before, at my old site (even praising it as “thongtastic,” which I’m still proud of): its place in Verhoeven’s filmography, Elizabeth Berkley’s astonishingly brave, go-for-broke performance as Nomi, and how the world of Showgirls ruthlessly strips away the wide-eyed Penny’s innocence.
The film is positively bursting at the seems with stuff to write about, clearly. My favorite topic is probably Berkley as Nomi – with Gina Gershon’s Cristal right there, too. Nomi is unlike most any other character in movie history, and Berkley’s performance is just utterly jaw dropping. Is it good? I would argue that, yes, within the context of the film, it is good. She was ripped to shreds by critics and audiences in 1995 though, and it basically destroyed her career. Even now, detractors love nothing more than to point out how much she “overacts,” which only shows they’re missing the point. Like its forerunner of cinematic sensationalism Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, this film is pure spectacle, and no single aspect holds our attention more than Nomi thrusting her naked, glistening body all over the place, be it on stage, backstage, on the Vegas Strip, or all over Kyle McLaughlin’s lucky lap. Few big studio roles have ever asked as much of an actress as Verhoeven’s film did of Berkley. She delivered the goods, and then some, and all she got it for it was years of ridicule. Thankfully, her fan base has only grown over the last decade or two, following the film’s ascendency into the upper echelon of beloved cult classics.
Somewhere, Nomi is devouring a burger and fries in her Ver-sayce dress to celebrate her silver anniversary. Remember, she eats like she dances like she screws: with gusto. That’s why so many of us love her, and this film. How often can you say whatever you feel in your daily life, without fear of reprisal? Hardly ever. Nomi’s no-filter existence is positively empowering, even if she’s clearly mentally ill, which only increases my sympathy for her. Watching Berkley thrash and strip and high-kick her way through one Vegas sleazoid after another is always a fist-pumping delight. It’s one of the many reasons why, twenty-five years on, Showgirls still doesn’t suck.