Showgirls | 1995 | Dir. Paul Verhoeven | 128 minutes | MGM
I began watching Showgirls with an open mind and without a hint of irony. I was waiting for some bread to rise and figured I could just switch to Gossip Girl if I got bored. Here’s my verdict:
I loved it. And admit it, you loved it too. You’re just scared to admit you really liked watching a movie starring boobs. Showgirls was in no way the sham of a film I’d been lead to believe. It had a cohesive story, a compelling main character, flashy dance numbers, and yes, boobs. My complete enjoyment of this guilty pleasure lead me to ponder, why did everyone hate this movie?
I can’t speak with total authority, having been, like, a toddler when Showgirls came out. But from my understanding, the film’s mythology goes like this: Paul Verhoeven, in demand after 1992’s erotic thriller Basic Instinct, directs a saga about Las Vegas showgirls. He casts innocent teen star Elizabeth Berkley, then most famous for Saved By The Bell, as lead Nomi Malone. The film has a large budget and receives an NC-17 rating; Verhoeven and MGM make no attempts to clean up the film for an R- rated theatrical release. Critics pan the movie and it underperforms at the box office. The film goes on to be hailed as the worst film of the year, the decade and the century. It wins 8 Golden Raspberries. Verhoeven personally accepts his Razzie for Worst Director.
Years later, the film achieves cult status. It brings in more than $100 million in rentals and DVD sales and becomes one of MGM’s Top 20 All- Time Bestsellers. Entertainment Weekly ranks it #36 on their list of Top 50 Cult Movies. The film is now lovingly mocked for its script, acting, and sex scenes.
Let’s start at the beginning: Showgirls originally tanked because of the rumor mill and the NC-17 rating. It cost $45 million, with $3.7 million paid for the screenplay alone. MGM expected Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas to crank out another Basic Instinct. Which, really, THEY DID. Just with more boobs, more sex and more Sharon Stone lookalikes. To be honest, even I think $3.7 mil is a ludicrous amount to pay for a screenplay about strippers. The film got the most flak for sex and nudity.
Yes, Showgirls shows a lot of T&A. What does one expect from a movie called SHOWGIRLS? Which brings me to its rating. Showgirls is the only NC-17 film with a widespread theatrical release. Who loves to see boobs more than anyone? Teenage boys. Let teenage boys buy those tickets and this film would have sunk Titanic. Case in point: Video rentals and DVD sales raked in $100 million. MGM edited the movie for an R rating and lost only three minutes of runtime. Hollywood learned its lesson: Censor your film for theaters, and release director’s cuts on DVD so every teenage boy can see a movie rated way worse than R.
The film became a career nightmare for Elizabeth Berkley. I just want to give Elizabeth Berkley major props. Her best- known role was a nerd in Saved By The Bell, but she killed it with this character. She has an incredible body! She’s a good dancer! She’s so good she can even act like she’s not good! Having seen the movie knowing nothing about Elizabeth Berkley, I totally bought her tough bitch act. She looked venomous, vacant, calculating, and sexy as hell. We hate her when the movie starts but root for her by the time it ends.
Underneath Elizabeth, Showgirls has complex supporting characters (the seedy but sympathizing strip club owner! The backstabbing backup dancer!). Showgirls also offers real insight on the exploitation of women in show business. This line nailed it:
You don’t want to be in this kind of show. What you’re doing, at least it’s honest. They want tits and ass, you give ’em tits and ass. Here, they pretend they want something else, and you still show them tits and ass.
Nomi hustles her way from hooker to stripper to showgirl to star. She tries to make people see her as a dancer, not a whore, but show business sees women as whores regardless of their job description. That’s not funny or ironic. It’s real.
So I’m not going to say Showgirls was poorly acted or had a bad script. The Star Wars prequels are poorly acted and had bad scripts. Showgirls is just… ABOUT SHOWGIRLS. Contrast with Spring Breakers, which had no plot, just as many boobs, and attempted to scandalize its young TV star actresses. Critics actually gave Spring Breakers the time of day as a serious piece of art. Shame on you, critics. Put Spring Breakers on your Worst Movie lists, because it’s bloody terrible. I defend Showgirls. This film gives the people what they want: Boobs. Dancing. More boobs. The bad guys get shafted, the good guys do the shafting, lessons are learned, glitter is thrown. Hate it, love it, enjoy it. Viva la Showgirls.