1995. Directed by Paul Verhoeven.
The only NC-17 wide release in American cinema history, Showgirls is an amalgam of trash couture.
Nomi (played by Elizabeth Berkley) arrives in Las Vegas with dreams of being a showgirl dancer. The film chronicles her rise from lap dance mistress to topless performer icon. One of the most maligned films in history, I went into my viewing by promising myself to focus on what the film does right and shockingly, there's quite a bit to admire.
First the cast. Robert Davi steals the show as Nomi's surrogate father and first boss, a strip club owner. His dialogue with Berkley is great, even if Berkley herself doesn't seem to be in on the joke. Gina Gershon is the foil, the current queen of the nipple and her sexual chemistry with Berkley's nomi is easily the film's most risque delight. Kyle Machalan is the love interest and he gives an appropriately wooden performance, supporting the film's madcap structure. Glen Plummer rounds out the central players as Nomi's bodyguard, guardian angel, and 30 second dance Sensei who allows her to climb the ranks to stardom.
While a satire and a garbage pail child of All About Eve, Showgirls is clearly trying very hard to make a statement. Sexual violence, sexual acrobatics, and sexual currency (I feel a trend here) are under the microscope, disguised by the amazing costuming of Ellen Mirojnick and the luscious cinematography of Jost Vacano. The film captures the essence behind the lights of the of the city and present's Nomi's story as neon-induced sexual Alice in Wonderland. It's apparent in every scene that the film is aiming for a satirical erotic epic, even if the entire package is really more of a Funhouse Brothel.
The biggest weakness is also the film's greatest strength. Joe Eszterhas' script is ludicrous, filled with memorable lines and absolutely ridiculous interactions. As previously stated, Berkley never seems to get to the joke and it's perhaps what makes this film worth revisiting. She tries so hard to bring Nomi to life that she rockets past affable and sexy into a dangerous caricature of desire and it only helps to increase the potency of the film's seedy aphrodisiac veneer.
Although things quickly devolve in the third act by abandoning the satire and doubling down as a revenge story, Showgirls does indeed shine as a one of a kind venture. The audacity in it's presentation is something that you just submit to, shaking your head in disbelief, but yet not turning away.
Verhoeven's adult fairy tale may be known for it's colossal failure, but it will always be remembered for it's jaw dropping delivery. A beautiful mess of a film.