What can truly be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said? The film is a cult legend and is one of the classic go-to titles when anyone talks about “so-bad-it’s-good.” It’s a true camp disaster. It’s the most aggressively un-sexy movie ever made about sex. Almost everything about it is disgusting and off-putting and it was a large part of the deathblow that put a studio into bankruptcy.
I love it. I love it so much.
How could I not? It’s an ambitious, frenetic, tacky creation that reaches for the stars and fails so spectacularly, that I cannot imagine success being more entertaining. There’s something incredible and amazing about it being so perfectly complete in it’s badness. For those of you who don’t know (and this would be both a blessing and a curse), Showgirls tells the story of Nomi Malone, a woman who hitch-hikes to Las Vegas to become a “dancer.” The quotation marks are there because it’s not properly elaborated on what that entails or why Nomi even wants this. She finds herself down on her luck and is eventually taken in by Molly, a seamstress/costumer for the dance-show (?) Goddess at the Stardust casino. Nomi takes work as a stripper at the Cheetah Club and boy is she defensive about it. While spending an evening backstage at Goddess with Molly, Nomi meets the star dancer Cristal Connors and what begins as possible flirtation ends with Nomi storming out of the room when Cristal has the gall to point out that Nomi’s a stripper. High-jinks ensue as Nomi auditions her way into Goddess and eventually supplants Cristal as the queen bee of the baffling dance production. Will she learn any lessons about love and life and Vegas? Who cares?
The joy of this movie can only come if you accept that the plot is nonsense. Joe Eszterhas has since said that he was absurdly high while writing the script (that sold for $2 million, not an amount to sneeze at in the early 90’s) and it shows. Watching the characters interact with each other in dimly-lit rooms with a sheen on their skin that suggests a mild fever, you can only conclude that this movie was written on cocaine. Paul Verhoeven directed this gorgeous travesty and it really makes you stop and ask if there was another form of this movie that could’ve been better. Verhoeven has a gift for vicious satire cloaked in high camp. My favorite example of his craft is the story about how he read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein and hated it so much that he filmed a sarcastic adaptation of it. He cast bad actors and told them to really swing for the fences. One might be tempted, then, to view Showgirls that way, but it’s pretty unclear how serious they were trying to be. Verhoeven claims that he wanted to do a remake of All About Eve that also exposed the exploitative treatment women suffer in Vegas. Gena Gershon, who played Cristal, has more or less corroborated this, but that only intensifies that glorious irony of the movie itself: a movie that wanted to show you the horrors of exploitation is itself unbelievably exploitative.
How exploitative? Showgirls is, to put it delicately, a sea of boobs. Boobs being fondled, boobs being leered at, boobs being mashed into a pole. Women’s bodies are regularly on display for the wolfish men who, with no notable exceptions, are all grasping sex-monsters. Women are objects that the men paw at and rut against. When you add in the fact that everyone looks sweaty, greasy, and over-warm, and how everyone’s lit to look slightly jaundiced, you don’t come out feeling all that great about the human form and anything sexual it can do. On paper, maybe “tons of naked people, mostly women,” would appeal to someone, but then you see what Showgirls does with it and it’s gross.
And yet… It’s gross in the way that children are gross. That’s the thing about Showgirls: it’s so immature and childish in its desperate attempts to shock and appall you that it’s impossible to take seriously. It’s as if you’ve been sat down by a very self-assured tween who’s going to tell you everything they know about sex and the dark side of show business. The movie is so caught up in being titillated and aroused by its own ham-handed portrayals of sex, that it entirely forgets to be the slightest bit sexy. In fact, Showgirls contains one of the worst sex scenes ever filmed. It takes place in a swimming pool and has been likened to watching a dolphin suffer a seizure.
All this might lead you to believe that this isn’t a film worth seeing. Leigh might agree with you as she reports that she felt physically ill watching it. I, however, see it very differently. It’s a trainwreck unlike any trains being wrecked today. It commits every sin, the performances are generally terrible (except for Gershon; she appears to know what this movie is), and the writing is so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh. It’s imminently quotable and you’ll forever remember the stupid-looking dancing. It’s also hard to not have respect for something that when it bombs, it bombs big. Carolco Pictures went out of business because of how hard this movie tanked (along with the Geena Davis pirate vehicle Cutthroat Island). This was the studio that gave the world the first three Rambo movies and Terminator. Showgirls cost $45 million to make and it made back $37.7 million. That’s a failure worth noting.
So what did we drink to wash down this perfect parfait of trash? We drank a little something we called Holy Water. We took the name from the fateful conversation between Cristal and Nomi in which they, among other topics, compare their breasts and how they both ate dog food for a period. Cristal explains her name, saying that the champagne isn’t just wine, it’s holy water. We combined about a shot of Pisco (a South American grape liquor) with a generous helping of Prosecco, a splash of ginger ale, and a few squeezes of lime. It’s smooth, refreshing, and perfect for a hot summer. It’s also the perfect classy-looking counterpoint to such a trashfire of a movie.
Find this movie. Put night aside for you and some friends to make a whole pitcher of Holy Water and go to town. You’ll have a blast and you’ll educate yourself about one of the most legendarily terrible movies in history.