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From the Vault: Showgirls (1995)

November 23, 2010

This Thursday marks the wide release of Burlesque, the directorial debut of Det. Nick Savino (Steve Antin) starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, and already the buzz is heavy with comparisons to the sexploitation flick, Showgirls.   How could it stand up against the film that combines the delicate skills of director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Hollow Man) with the subtle talents of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Sliver, Jagged Edge, and also Basic Instinct)?   Showgirls is an unstoppable force in the race to win a spot in the dictionary under “hot mess”.  The movie features a – dare I say? – lynchpin performance by Elizabeth “Jesse Spano” Berkeley, and yes, I know, it is impossible to find a write-up of Showgirls that does not reference Berkeley’s infamy as a star of Saved by the Bell, but that is because it is impossible to stop thinking about who you are watching throughout the film. It is an integral part of the Showgirls film experience.

I will cut you.

The movie starts with her hitchhiking to Vegas and right away she establishes herself as a hothead who means business. Berkeley plays Nomi Malone, and she plays her as hard as she possibly can, which is to say, I still can’t tell to this day if her performance is in earnest or not.  This is the allure of Showgirls — they have to know what kind of movie they were making, right?  Right?!

Nomi goes to Vegas and immediately finds work dancing at Cheetah strip club and becomes friends and roommates with Molly, who makes costumes for the big local star on the strip, Cristal. Cristal takes a liking to Nomi. So does Cristal’s boyfriend. There are a lot of long looks and smoldering fake lesbian sensuality in that boring porn way.

can I do your nails?

She doesn’t sleep with Cristal, she sleeps with Cristal’s boyfriend. To get a job? To get even? Or just to get a chance to do it in a pool?

The plot is immaterial of course, because like any exploitation film, the purpose is to string together moments of naked women dancing around volcanos, running up and down stairs in dominatrix outfits, licking poles, etc. etc. The entire set-up seems to be about making fun of the “low-rent” Vegas entertainment industry, the small town girl who mispronounces Versace trying to break it into the “big time” while other characters call her a high price call girl or warn her of the dangers of their sleaze, but their interpretation of crass and sympathetic is not exactly set to a strong moral compass.  The appeal of small time entertainers is that they are wholly earnest, even if naive at times.  Showgirls is best when it sticks to more histrionic Dynasty moments:  backstabbing sabotage that’s more than just stealing makeup — we’re talking compound fractures and concussions, for the sake of the understudy stealing the lead.

Also, beware of hairpieces in this movie, they are powerful!

Other favorite moments include: Gina Gerson’s terrible Texan accent, the lapdance choreography of Glenn Plummer, and Robert Davi as the sleazy strip club owner who, in a moment of congratulating Nomi on her success as a ‘legitimate’ dancer, says “must be weird not having anybody cum on ya.”  Every dance audition and rehearsal scene is also amazing, especially the one where she is ordered to THRUST! THRUST  THRUST!

Now, one real warning about this film, if you do decide to indulge in an evening of so-bad-it’s-good cinema: near the end, it gets truly terrible. When Andrew Carver shows up, leave the room, make yourself a snack, go take a bathroom break. It’s around the 1hr 50m minute mark, right at the end, and it gets super ugly, because in order for Nomi to redeem herself from the dark hubris path she’s gone down, her best friend Molly first must be brutalized and raped.  Nomi is forced to choose between maintaing her career and exacting vengeance.

This is the part of the film where it stops being fun anymore, I hate the casual destruction of women’s bodies as a plot device, and it takes awhile to bounce back from the ugliness of what they show, so just spare yourself, and come back into the room around the time she’s sticking her stiletto boot in his face, so that you can see the final scene in the hospital, where Nomi is forgiven by Cristal, who delivers my favorite piece of advice, which I carry with me always.

“There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you.”

And cut to salacious lesbian porno kiss.

And scene.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2010 10:08 am

    Clearly of all the things to block out of this film certainly the points you made about the parts that should have been excised from this film are well taken. My only thought as to why they were there at all was to attempt to give the film a sense of gravitas (which it certainly didn’t deserve) and some sort of cautionary tale quality where those that come to Vegas, without the proper killer attitude, stay in Vegas.

    But an epic recap of a Lynchpin Performance that I probably would have overlooked otherwise!

  2. November 23, 2010 10:39 am

    My only thought as to why they were there at all was to attempt to give the film a sense of gravitas (which it certainly didn’t deserve) and some sort of cautionary tale quality where those that come to Vegas, without the proper killer attitude, stay in Vegas.

    Agreed. I’ve always wondered about the casting – specifically Berkeley’s. Like how did they approach Alan Rachins and Kyle MacLachlan? Gina Gershon had a star turn in Bound. Sure, Showgirls might have made her a cult icon, but it certainly did her career no favors. In addition, Berkeley was no Travolta. And Verhoven is no Taratino. What’s pretty telling is that Verhoven couldn’t get any of his regulars to participate in this mess.

    The great thing about the film is it demonstrated once and for all why it’s important not to attempt to use MAC spice lip liner to draw on more lips than you actually have. That monkey butt lipliner was a hot mess.

    Oh, Glenn Plummer. *shakes head*

  3. thepants permalink
    November 23, 2010 11:04 am

    I did a Showgirls and All About Eve double feature one evening. Those two movies go surprisingly well together and have a lot of the same general themes. All About Eve is a wonderful timeless movie with great performances and Showgirls is well…. Showgirls but in tandem it’s a pretty good evening.
    I also had friends in college that had Showgirls drinking game night. The one major rule was you had to drink when Elizabeth Berkeley made a really strange and unnatural acting choice (we got pretty drunk.)

  4. November 23, 2010 11:12 am

    My former therapist looks like Andrew Carver. True story.

  5. November 23, 2010 11:54 am

    I immediately decided that Burlesque was to go on the “No Fly List” because it looked like a toned down version of Showgirls. Showgirls was uncomfortable to watch. I am not an easily outraged parent however, it seems the last few movies we(junior and I) have gone to see included a preview for Burlesque. More than one of the movies were aimed at her age group more than mine. The Last Song, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Deathly Hollows all showed previews for Burlesque. I have seen or read nothing about this movie to make me believe its tween or preteen appropriate. Even in my not so PC definition of the words.

  6. cath permalink
    November 23, 2010 2:37 pm

    I am very, very glad that I’m not the only one who thinks that Molly’s rape scene is unwarranted in its sick brutality. I had never walked out of a film until Showgirls, and it was during that scene. I fast-forward through it when I re-watch it nowadays. It’s enough to know it happened. Why it was so over-the-top brutal in such an otherwise schlocky, cheesy film makes little sense to me.

    On further reflection, it makes perfect sense in the fact that the writer and director wanted nothing more than to completely dehumanize a woman. I’d wager that their treatment of Molly is so severe because she’s black and is relatively successful — okay, she’s not Claire Huxtable, but she’s doing something she enjoys. I don’t know if they’d show a white woman the way they show Molly in the hospital room, and that makes the whole thing sit even worse with me.

  7. November 23, 2010 6:05 pm

    @Cath – that weird shift in tone was incredibly jarring. I think at some point it must have occurred to the creators that Molly was the only redeemable character in the entire film, given they had failed to instill Nomi with any nuance, therefore Molly was the only character on which it felt “appropriate” to construct an object lesson.

  8. November 23, 2010 9:27 pm

    Thanks for the awesome and entertaining recap! I’ve only seen a part of Showgirls when VH1 actually used to air what I assume must been a heavily edited version. Now that I think of it, and based on reading this recap, what possibly could they have shown?

    Funny to think how hard Elizabeth Berkeley was fighting her uptight Jessie Spano image by doing something as opposite of “teen sitcom” as possible. If she hadn’t done Showgirls, she’d be Lark Voohries, who is known only for Saved By The Bell. At least she’s known for two cheesy contributions to pop culture instead of one, which is…something?

  9. November 23, 2010 9:34 pm

    LOL @ “Lark Voohries”. She must be on the same island they’re holding Lela Rochon and the other Vanessa Williams.

  10. hsofia permalink
    November 23, 2010 9:52 pm

    When I saw “Showgirls,” my two friends who had me watch it fast-forwarded through the rape scene. “You don’t need to see this,” they said. I’ve seen the movie once more since and somehow missed that scene when I went to the restroom. I can’t even remember how the movie ends. The conversation about eating puppy chow is my favorite part.

  11. cath permalink
    November 24, 2010 2:55 am

    @Snarkarooskie —

    Yeah, that’s a good point. The whole thing just fucking sucks.

    I think the FryButt readership should lobby for a rape-scene free cut of Showgirls.

  12. November 24, 2010 8:40 am

    I’m thinking with a quick tutorial, I could upload the film to FinalCut and make that Edited Version happen!!

    thanks everybody for comments on the recap! LOL at Lark Voorhies. and here’s the puppy chow clip for @hsofia.

  13. evmaroon permalink
    November 24, 2010 11:42 am

    That monkey butt lipliner was a hot mess.
    Well, when you put it like that…okay, seriously, it was distractingly bad, like much of this movie. I always get this confused with another awful morality play about dancing women, Flashdance. No wait, I mean Striptease. The Demi Moore year-later follow-up of sorts to Showgirls. Maybe agreeing to be in a movie about struggling female dancers is a sign that an actor should cut and run from the industry. If it don’t say Fame, it’s not going anyhere good.

  14. November 24, 2010 2:42 pm

    My favorite thing about the VH1 reruns were the CGI BRAS. omg, the wiggly dancing bras on everyone’s exposed boobage!

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