I’m going to get it off my chest right away: I think that Showgirls is a good movie.
There. I said wrote it.
Either you scream “whuuuud?” now or you just scratch your head, because you have never seen Showgirls. But maybe, like maybe maybe, you just silently nod in agreement. For those who don’t: hear me out.
Director Paul Verhoven and script writer Joe Esterhas worked together on Showgirls, practically on the heels of the enormous success of their hit-movie Basic Instinct (aww, fond memories of the crotch-shot, haven’t we?). The movie was widely anticipated, mainly because it was meant to be controversial and marketed to be controversial. Oh, boobies, and oh, sexual references and oh whatnot. It was released to theatres in 1995 and bombed. And ruined the careers of the actors involved for quite a while. But the story does not end there, apparently over time an impressive fanbase was built, people like me, who caught it on TV or accidentally rented the video-tape (yeah, remember those?) and thought: Hey, this is not so bad after all.
Ok, I assume a lot of people actually thought: Oh hell, this is so bad after all, even worse. It’s so bad that it’s actually good. But I am not one of them. Sure it’s corny and cheesy at times, yes, it’s kitsch and over the top, and agreed, it’s a lot about the tittays and the horniness of everyone involved.
Why do I love it so much then?
First of all: I like the story. Yeah, laugh all you want. There is a story and it’s good one. Good because it’s about good old Nomi in all her wide-eyed glory finding out what it means to have a friend, stay friends, understand what foes are and how their evil tricks work and see that even in those you initially wrote off, there might still be a heart of gold. In my head it sounds less stupid, I swear.
“You know the best advice I ever got? You’re up there on stage, hopin’ on a spot. If someone gets in your way, step on ’em. If you’re the only one left standing there, they hire you. That’s about it. Thank you and good night, ladies and gentlemen. Elvis has left the building.”
What complaint could we possibly level at Showgirls?
It’s sexist. Hm, yes and at the same time, strangely, no. Are all the women treated as if they are objects? Yes. But by whom? The male characters? Certainly. But they themselves are treated like objects, stereotypical token devices that the movie uses. But does the movie use its female characters in the same way? In my humble opinion it does not.
Sure, all advertising screamed that it’s all about Nomi in the nude and the movie at some points acts as if the main reason for the female character’s existence would be to make us viewers all horned up by their oh-so-erotic make-out action. BUT, I argue, it’s perfectly fine y’all. Let Nomi explore her sexuality. Get praise for her boobs. Make out with Zach and/or Cristal. It’s a coming of age movie for the universe’s sake, so why not let her make her experiences and get wiser along the way? The movie leads us to believe that there is this character falling into our plot with a backstory and therefore knowing her way around, but what ultimately happens, is that we have a character with a backstory (however constructed that may be) that does not know her way around, but can learn, make mistakes, and learn some more.
And I just take the bad along with the good. Meaning that I’m really not a big fan of the stupid subplot involving James, his dance-troupe-dreams and the impregnation of Hope whose real name is not Hope. I do like Hope though and little fun fact here is, that there have recently been rumours floating around the internet that Showgirls 2 is about to see the light of day, focusing on Hope and her story. Sounds lame to me, but in this very subplot she was the only good thing person. (Just found out: The Hope actress – Rena Riffel – actually indulges in the movie’s cult status. And has produced this trailer for a second installment.)
I’m not a fan of the whole thing because here the movie really tries (hard) to present the characters as round characters, all the while only parading stereotypes and sexist BS in front of our eyes. Does not help (at all) that James is the token black guy who gets effed over by destiny and has to throw out lines that are 99.9% chauvinist and sexist. I do give the film credit for trying to make us sympathize with him, though. But only a little.
“I’m getting a little old for that whore look”
Now you might expect me to hate some on the “Andrew Carver rapes best friend Molly” subplot as well, but no. No, I think that’s rather good. Pretty well handled except for maybe the fact that Molly, as the only black woman in the movie, has to suffer through that when it turns out that she isn’t even the one coming clear. Therein lies a debatable point where you basically have to choose a side. Is Nomi’s beating up of Andrew Carver a good thing? It’s gratifying, yes, but is it justice? Shouldn’t she walk to the next police officer and tell the story even if all her drugs and whore stories might get dragged into broad daylight? Yes I think she should, but, and I see that you might find flaw with the reasoning, I also like to think that she did just that at some point, although the film does not show it. Ok, it might just be wishful thinking, but then again, there’s a lot of loose threads in this movie that you have to bring to an end in your own imagination. Like where does Nomi come from? Where does she go? What will Molly do after getting out of the hospital? I like to think she gets her trial and Andrew is sentenced to 13 years in prison. Happy Endz.
Now what else do we have to wonder about? Yes, right: What will become of Cristal Connors? Oh, she does have a bright future ahead of herself. Why? Because She Is Awesome. Capital Awesome she is. Her diva antics, her worked-myself-up-tude, her lesbian innuendos and the ultimate revelation of how much of a heart she actually has. She is the prime example of what I mean when I say that the women in Showgirls are not mere objects. She is treated like that by the men surrounding her and found herself a place in that system that worked to her advantage for a good while, but what she really wishes for, what she really dreamt of is something that makes all the villain-façade come down within milliseconds. She feeds sexist stereotypes and she sends some assholery down the hierarchy, but ultimately she realizes that on a personal level it didn’t do her any favors. And isn’t this probably the most rewarding scene of the whole movie: Having your villainess realize that it might actually be way better to just be a nice and lovable person for once? Aww, heart shaped cookies for everyone!
I realize that I haven’t said much about Zach. Well, he sucks. Hard. But he does so by design, that’s what the plot requires of his character. There’s also our lovable quasi-parents Al and Henrietta, and yes, I love her flash-the-boobs-trick. Cute.
Wikipedia says: the film comes full circle when Nomi gets into the car of the stealing cowboy again. It does to some extent, but hints at there being more stories. While it is always tempting to imagine a sequel, it is seldom a good idea to actually make one.
And you know what: I prefer dreaming of Nomi making her dancer/stripper ways through the U.S., fighting for feminism. Now shoot me.
Haven’t seen it? Go watch it!