What the F*** is up with Showgirls
by Sam Kurtz
I don’t know what it is, but lately my social media explore pages have been showing me aesthetically pleasing screenshots of the movie Showgirls, a 25 year old movie that has been described as a “cheap porn film”. “Why is this movie that is 5 years my senior suddenly filling up my timeline?” was the question I was asking myself when a Youtube video relating to Showgirls came onto my recommended page. It was a great video by Broey Deschanel entitled “The Showgirls Redemption,” and I highly recommend it. One important thing this video did for me was it brought up the point of whether Showgirls was camp or not.
Now, deciding whether or not something is camp is a slippery slope because camp isn’t exactly definable. However, it generally falls into two categories: deliberate or naive. Deliberate camp is what it sounds like, a purposeful wink to the audience about how over the top and flashy what they're about to see is, and naive being an unintentional contribution to the oeuvre of camp. While there is definitely an argument that Showgirls is camp or satire of the harsh world of show business that chews girls up and spits them out, I just think it's a really bad movie. Now to be fair, I am not a film person by any means. I don’t know film terms or anything like that, but what I do know is when a movie is so bad it makes my skin crawl or time slow down, and that's exactly what this movie did. I have a lot of problems with this movie, both with the movie itself and with some elements surrounding the movie as well, so let's just dive into my hate piece against the trainwreck that is the movie Showgirls.
One of my biggest problems with this movie is the way they used people of color solely to progress the white lead actress’ plot line. There were only two black people who had more than 10 lines, and they were both treated poorly or portrayed like an asshole. There was a temporary love interest, James, and Nomi’s best friend, Molly. While Nomi is a stripper, James calls her a hooker multiple times and is honestly just a dick to her. His main purpose was to try and teach Nomi how to “really dance”. But instead he awkwardly fingers Nomi to see if she's on her period, and then goes and gets the new girl at the strip club pregnant. The only other actor of color is Molly, a costume designer at a show in Vegas who is also in school for fashion, is flatly portrayed as the doting friend until Nomi pushes the lead girl down the stairs to take the spot for herself. Molly is very upset, justly so, but then Nomi tries to convince her to go to a party where her celebrity crush will be. Molly decides to go but is then beaten and raped by her celebrity crush and his goonies. While she is in the hospital, Nomi straight up abandons her and leaves Las Vegas without telling Molly. So both of the only people of color with lines are used solely for the progression of Nomi’s plotline and are treated with unnecessary violence and hate. Also there's a white girl with box braids and that just doesn’t sit well with me either.
The next problem I have with Showgirls is the very unhealthy queer relationship that it depicts. In the beginning of the movie, Nomi goes to visit Molly at work as the costume designer for the dance show at the Stardust Hotel. That's where she meets the illustrious Cristal, the star of the Stardust dance show. While Molly is working on a piece for Cristal she introduces Nomi, where she informs Cristal that Nomi is also a dancer. When Cristal asks where she dances and Nomi replies The Cheetah, a seedy strip club, Cristal tells her she's not a dancer, thus starting their weird, toxic relationship. Cristal and her boyfriend Zack go to the Cheetah and then asks Nomi to do a private dance for both of them, which is essentially done just to embarrass Nomi and show her completely naked and flopping around like a fish on top of Kyle MacLachlan with aggressive bangs. Nomi then does one of the weirdest tryouts for a dance position I’ve ever seen, and manages to get a part at the Stardust, despite throwing two tantrums. Once Nomi starts working at the Stardust, Cristal takes every opportunity she can to embarrass or undermine Nomi, unless she's flirting with her or saying some of the most uncomfortable lines I’ve ever heard in a movie about doggy chow or boobs. In the end, Nomi pushes Cristal down the stairs to take her lead part, and before Nomi abandons her recently abused bestfriend, they share a bedridden kiss. Not only is this relationship extremely unhealthy, it's also just extremely uncomfortable. Whether it's their weird lines, awkward interactions, or the contrast of Cristal’s smugness and Nomi’s eagerness, this relationship, if you can even call it that, feels very uncomfortable and extremely forced.
There are plenty of other problems within how this movie deals with how POC characters are treated or how gay relationships are depicted, but now I just want to rant for a hot minute about my opinions on this movie. There are so many aspects of this movie that A) just don’t make sense or B) make anyone watching it cringe to an ungodly level. Within the first 10 minutes, there are some of the most uncomfortable line delivery and acting choices I have ever witnessed. Whether it be something like Nomi slamming their fries on the table in front of the person who bought them for her or Nomi pulling a knife on someone like a child would in a cheap production of Rent, everything just feels so uncomfortable and so artificial. There have been arguments about how the over-the-top delivery of the lines in this movie is what makes it camp.But in my opinion, it's part of what makes it such a bad movie, but I don’t blame Elizabeth Berkeley (the woman who plays Nomi) for that. On another note, this movie also has a really weird focus on nipples, almost on the same level as a poorly written fan-fiction. Like don’t get me wrong, I love seeing boobs as much as the next bi person, but the amount in this movie almost feels exploitive, especially when you consider that this was Berkeley's first major role after she played a goody-two shoes on Saved By The Bell. While she was 23 and technically considered a fully consenting adult, the fact that she did full frontal nudity in her first major role just feels like she was taken advantage of in some way in her pursuit of stripping her title as the good girl. Another thing I don’t like concerning the treatment of Berkeley is the fact that the box office failure of Showgirls was blamed completely on Berkeley. After it flopped, she was dropped by her agent and ever since she's only been able to land small roles on TV shows. The most disappointing part is that her spastic acting was because the director told her to act that way, but yet it was Berkeleys career that suffered and not his. I mean don’t get me wrong, her overly energetic, borderline unhinged, acting and body motions was hard to suffer through, but if she was directed to act that way her head shouldn’t be the one on the chopping block.
I have so many problems with this movie that writing full sentences about them would take up another 5 pages but I would like to share some of the highlights of the notes I took during this movie and give absolutely no context for them cause I think that just more fun:
In the end, it is still debatable whether this movie is camp or not, but in my eyes giving this movie the out of being camp completely overlooks the fact that it is a disjointed, nonsensical trainwreck that exploits people of color, slut shames sex workers, and has one of the worst scripts I’ve ever heard. I give it a 0/10 on the making sense scale and a 1/10 on the general movie scale. Overall, the only good thing to come out of this movie is the fact that it helped inspire the make-up for Euphoria, and that's about it.
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