Imagine the sort of sleaziness that can only be found one place and nowhere else; it’s the sort that Paul Verhoeven wishes for his viewers to experience through Showgirls. Everyone already knows Showgirls from its notorious career-ruining reputation together with a consistent positioning amongst what are supposedly the worst films ever made and even sweeping a record at the Golden Raspberry Awards. Yet in spite of this infamy, it managed to grow a cult within following years on home video, some people saying it may be “so bad it’s good,” but others calling for re-evaluation. “So bad it’s good” it may be for some but I happen to be among the camp that thinks Showgirls is genuine good: a misunderstood work brimming with brilliance.
Elizabeth Berkley stars as Nomi Malone, a down-on-her-luck drifter heading into Las Vegas with the hopes of becoming a showgirl. A common criticism comes along the lines of the film’s portrayal of women. This sort of sleaziness could show Verhoeven is onto something more, because it’s clear that everything wrong and depraved with a world full of privilege on both ends. Given as Paul Verhoeven is the one behind the camera, one can only expect the biting satirical edge to be present once again as he collaborates a second time with screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. Paul Verhoeven has made clear with Basic Instinct he shows a sort of feminine power after they become the objects of desire of the male gaze, but now comes another look upon something similar – now under a much harsher light.
Showgirls is a film drenched in camp, but it’s always a loud one in terms of its message. Yet in a sense it’s something that helps Verhoeven’s vision allow itself to flourish. Everywhere one looks in Showgirls lays the sleazy nature of Las Vegas, but what exactly is it that Verhoeven wishes his viewers to see in this sort of environment? It carries a distinctive appeal for the eyes, but it’s something fairly obvious when looking at an area like Las Vegas that the city wants one to be drawn into all the glamour. Is the lifestyle really even anything as pleasing as one would think it seems just because one has met their desires out of luck? That perhaps is one thing that I would only imagine Paul Verhoeven wants given the incredible degree to which he indulges in what he’s best known for: his satire. Only something just so baffling altogether could have come about from Showgirls soon enough.
In that leading role is Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi Malone, a woman who falls victim to the system. It was a risky move for Berkley, given how she was fresh off the sitcom Saved by the Bell but nevertheless she seems to adapt to Verhoeven’s world so perfectly. Yet Verhoeven carries a great sympathy for what she is set to go through although the brimming satire comes about from the hopeful eyes she has. As she enters the industry, she experiences something else but as a result, pressure builds up on her end: one that still wants her to become only at the very top of her game. It came clear to me why Verhoeven’s casting of Berkley fits the role of Nomi Malone so perfectly, it was because knowing Berkley’s hopes after the end of Saved by the Bell. A new star rising up to fame even at a risk of their image, for Berkley’s performance perfectly represents this trial before all of the excess comes up front.
Everything about what Showgirls has aimed for is perfect, although it’s not without an issue I have with Verhoeven’s indulgence into the atmosphere. Many of the supposed “exotic” moments of Showgirls play on far too long for their own good, instead presenting the titillating feeling as opposed to a sort of thought provocation that was present in much slower doses. What’s at least worth crediting, however, is how Verhoeven films such sequences because they take oneself into this world so quickly. I could imagine that perhaps it was meant to look repulsive, because that would be a fitting descriptor for the sort of world Showgirls is set within, but at times I felt there was a point I’ve told myself I had enough on the count of feeling exhausted.
Maybe a time will come within the future where Showgirls gets a mass re-evaluation from the public because it would be easy to be put off by the notoriety it has from its initial release. One of the worst films ever made, they may say, but a satirical work of brilliance is what I see. It’s exploitative and trashy but maybe in the very best sense of the word. Paul Verhoeven never intended for Showgirls to be a completely serious drama, but even when he moved away from science fiction that edge was always present as shown in Basic Instinct. With Showgirls, something wonderful has come about all throughout. This excess is not something exclusive to sin city, just as the final shot shows.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via MGM/UA.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Screenplay by Joe Eszterhas
Produced by Lynn Ehrensperger, Charles Evans, Mario Kassar, Alan Marshall
Starring Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon, Glenn Plummer, Robert Davi, Alan Rachins, Gina Ravera
Release Year: 1995
Running Time: 131 minutes