"For Nomi, sex is a means to an end."
You cannot force a film to become a classic. It is a distinction that happens naturally, usually over several decades. In that same vein, the term cult classic is not something you can plan or expect, as it too occurs unexpectedly over time. Though many believe that the term cult classic is out of date, almost all agree that Paul Verhoeven's 1995 Vegas dramedy Showgirls fits comfortably in that realm.
A disastrous flop upon its original release, the NC-17 film became the butt of nearly every terrible film joke that year and was the long-winded reference point for the better part of a decade. Derailing a once-promising career for star Elizabeth Berkley, Verhoeven was unable to backstep his way out of the conversation, often adding heat to the fire as he defended his artistic choices to a society that wanted nothing more than to laugh at his creation.
Jeffrey McHale's directorial debut, the pun-filled You Don't Nomi, takes a hard look at Verhoeven's Basic Instinct follow-up, closely examining its specific qualities to best explain the film's unexpected second life as the centerpiece to late-night cinema.
Split into three parts, You Don't Nomi is a reasonably traditional documentary in context and execution, but excels with its unique appreciation for the film geek that lives deep within. McHale focuses in on the craft, allowing critics and experts to analyze and dissect the film, highlighting its bare-bones as it works to build an understanding and an eventual appreciation for the campy Vegas fair.
In much the same vein of Rodney Ascher's Room 237, which analyzed Stanley Kubrick's 1980 classic The Shining, and Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52, a literal dissecting of the infamous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 Psycho, You Don't Nomi is a film about a film that often bridges the line between respectful fascination and sheer obsession. Though the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, the analytical contents prevent the movie from reaching its deserved apex.
Though I appreciate the deep dive into specifics offered by critics who are either defending their original reviews or explaining what makes Verhoeven's style so attractive, McHale misses the mark with his unaware disconnection to the everyday fan. Outside of exit interviews pulled from Showgirls' original release, we never fully understand why movie fans still flock to midnight and special screenings of the recently certified cult classic. There has to be some connection, some explanation of the allure and enchantment this film has grown to possess over its legion of adoring fans. Though I appreciate the technicality aspect, hearing from everyday fans, those who helped give the movie its second coming, would have played a strong hand in rounding out the narrative and providing better support to the film's primary thesis.
And that's just it.
You Don't Nomi is a thesis presented in an unexpected medium. Much like other similar projects, every viewer must decide whether Showgirls is more deserving of its initial critical reception or its rise as one of the most under-appreciated works of genius. I cannot answer that for you. Neither can McHale. But the director has painted a strong argument for the later, even if he is a bit muddled in his approach. Either way, this film does nothing less than revisit the "masterpiece of shit" and encourage an additional viewing, and that, in a nutshell, is something worth celebrating.
*This film is currently available via On-Demand and Digital platforms.