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Film Review: “You Don’t Nomi” Revisits “Showgirls” in All Its Lurid Glory

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 8th, 2020

Film poster: “You Don’t Nomi”

You Don’t Nomi (Jeffrey McHale, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.

September 22, 1995, saw the release of the soon-to-be-megaflop Showgirls, from director Paul Verhoeven, a Dutch transplant to Hollywood whose previous films had included such hits as Robocop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct. Written by Joe Eszterhas, who had also penned Basic Instinct, the movie starred Elizabeth Berkley – theretofore known for her role as Jessie Spano on the NBC sitcom Saved by the Bell – as Nomi Malone, a young woman with dreams of making it not in Tinseltown but Sin City, embarking on a series of lurid misadventures through the strip clubs of Las Vegas on her way to nowhere. Marked by strangely over-the-top performances, even from otherwise reliable folks like Gina Gershon (Bound) and Kyle MacLachlan (Blue Velvet), Showgirls not only bombed but was pretty universally panned by critics. The onscreen hysteria, gratuitous nudity, and ludicrous sex scenes all add up to one hot mess, without dramatic pleasures (not even guilty ones). Perhaps because of its infamy, however, it makes a terrific topic for Jeffrey McHale’s new documentary, You Don’t Nomi. Love the original movie or not (I am in the latter camp), there is much to love here.

Divided into three sections – “The Bomb: Piece of Sh**,”The Cult: Masterpiece,” and “The Redemption: Masterpiece of Sh**” – You Don’t Nomi walks the viewer through Showgirls’ tortured history as reviled garbage to cherished cult favorite. McHale (making his directorial debut) interviews film critics like Haley Mlotek, Adam Nayman, David Schmader, Barbara Shulgasser-Parker and Susan Wloszcyna (along with other experts) to explore what went wrong (or right, depending on point of view) and how the movie’s failure affected those involved, not to mention today’s vibrant fan culture and adaptations. Its greatest victim was poor Berkley, whose agent dropped her and whose career remain stalled for a good while (and, though she has certainly worked since then, never really recovered). Verhoeven and Eszterhas took a beating, as well, though the former has continued to direct, even if from Europe (after two final American films, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man). The documentary, filled with juicy gossip and solid analysis, emerges as an enjoyable case study of cinematic disaster and (partial) redemption, entertaining for most of its 92-minute length.

April Kidwell plays Nomi Malone in the stage production of “Showgirls! The Musical!” as featured in the documentary YOU DON’T NOMI, an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

McHale mixes in plenty of footage from Verhoeven’s entire filmography, both pre- and post-disaster, sometimes to the point, sometimes a little too ostentatiously, knocking us out of the main thread. More often than not, however, he nicely homes in on the elements within the Verhoeven œuvre that connect one work to the next, showcasing the rise to apotheosis and subsequent fall to nadir. A natural satirist of societal conventions, Verhoeven was always more successful critiquing violence than sex, where his own prurient proclivities seemed to get the best of him; at least they did in Showgirls and Basic Instinct. But that’s just me. You may feel differently, and thanks to McHale, we can all find something to take away from the discussion. I may not have cared to know more about Nomi, but confess that now that I do, I am richer for it.

[Available to watch at home from June 9, on demand, through RLJE Films.]

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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