The title “You Don’t Nomi” is a pun based on the name of the character played by Elizabeth Berkley in the notorious movie “Showgirls.” A new documentary by Jeffrey McHale, now on VOD, digs deep into a movie “New York Times” critic Janet Maslin called a “bare-butted bore” in 1995 but has since been given a critical reassessment. “I don’t think we’re done with it,” says writer Haley Mlotek, “because I don’t think we know what it means as a film.”
For the initiated “Showgirls” is a big-budget “erotic drama”—one writer called it a “$40 million stag party”—penned by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Paul Verhoeven, the team behind “Basic Instinct.” It’s the tawdry tale of Polly Ann Costello, a.k.a. Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), a young drifter who will do almost anything (or anyone) to become a star as a Las Vegas showgirl.
It was meant to be Berkley’s move to adult roles after finding fame on the squeaky-clean kiddie sitcom “Saved by the Bell.” Instead, the over-the-top film was savaged by critics, dismissed as misogynistic by audiences, protested by LGBTQ groups as it became an albatross around the Berkley’s boa clad neck.
Using clips aplenty from Verhoeven’s film and the disembodied voices of film critics and academics, “You Don’t Nomi” aims to reexamine the perceived wisdom about the film. Is it a terrible joke, a campy “All About Eve” or is it a misunderstood masterpiece?
The truth is that it is probably somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. “Showgirls” superfan and critic Adam Nayman offers up a compelling breakdown of Verhoeven’s visual style dispelling early criticism of the film as a poorly made exploitation flick. It may be exploitive, but it is not poorly made. Other voices chimes in, some dissenting but most leaning toward the film as an exercise in maximal cinema. One critic suggests that if we brush aside any expectation of realism or naturalism and the movie takes on a new life as a hyper-stylized kind of filmmaking.
“It’s completely singular,” says another. “Like nothing else.”
Poet Jeffrey Conway likens the film to camp classics like “Valley of the Dolls” and “Mommie Dearest,” movies that are “impossibly bad and impossibly thrilling at the same time.”
As a clever assemblage of clips and opinion “You Don’t Nomi” is entertaining and may make you want to revisit the film’s sleazy milieu, but it feels more like a DVD extra for a new, deluxe “Showgirls” release than a feature doc.