YOU DON'T NOMI
In the mid-90's, at the peak of his career, genre director Paul Verhoeven set out to make an award worthy drama that would also act as a commentary on showbiz. Aptly titled Showgirls, the film went on to be a critical and commercial failure, nearly ruining his career in the process. At the time, while it did not conform to his idea of success, it did eventually go on to win several (Razzie) awards. In the 25 years since its release, it has also become an increasingly ineffable allegory that has been adored, revisited, and reinterpreted countless times.
Now, in the documentary You Don't Nomi, filmmaker Jeffrey McHale explores the bizarre phenomenon's origin and evolution. Through a series of interviews with critics, diehard fans, and even others with close ties to the project, he, like Verhoeven, creates an unintentional work of art that simultaneously compliments the original while adding so much more meaning.
When it starts however, it’s not entirely clear what the film’s intention is. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Much like Showgirls, going into this film blind somehow still doesn't do the moviegoer justice because there are so many unpredictable developments that enhance the experience. Elizabeth Berkley’s Nomi Malone isn’t as clueless as we think she is. Her dance moves are a lot more symbolic than we’re lead on. Scenes where actors are uttering nonsense are revealed to be elaborate distractions from Verhoeven’s visual trickery.
After a single viewing, it’s easy to take the film for face value. But it isn’t until you rewatch the film a second or even a third time that you become more aware of all it has to offer. For those who have seen the film at least once, You Don't Nomi is a perfect return to Verhoeven’s vision. It effortlessly proves that the film is just the tip of a very complex iceberg. In an in-depth analysis of Verhoeven's body of work as a whole, the documentary outlines some of his most popular recurring themes such as overt sexuality and perversion, while also calling out original audiences for being so quick to dismiss it. It becomes clear that Showgirls wasn’t that different from Verhoeven’s earlier works. Even as a film with an NC-17 rating - an accomplishment that Verhoeven was extremely proud of - I think the film's only true crime is that it took itself too seriously; that’s what makes it such a cult classic though.
To me, You Don’t Nomi is somewhat reminiscent of a documentary about another cult film, Room 233. For those who may not be aware, the film chronicles the legacy and theories behind Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Despite similar concepts though, the execution differs entirely. While Room 233 intercuts interviews with footage of the film, You Don’t Nomi never once shows us who is talking. Instead, it intercuts archived footage such as interviews with Verhoeven, Berkley, and others. It also throws shots and scenes from Verhoeven’s other films into the mix. In fact, certain sequences from some of his most iconic films like Robocop and Basic Instinct are recontextualized to coincide with specific moments or themes being referenced from Showgirls. One great example is when one of the commentators begins talking about how desensitized Verhoeven’s characters are to nudity. At the same time, a clip from Starship Troopers is shown where both men and women are forced to share showers. It's all very creative and tastefully done.
While this film does touch on the infinite hidden meanings behind Showgirls, it does a much better job at plausibly proving why the film deserves more recognition today. What's most admirable about You Don't Nomi though is that despite the mostly pleasant approach, none of the interviewees are ever afraid to still criticize it. They forgive all of its most controversial transgressions, while still maintaining that it can never be perfect.
But this film isn’t perfect either. While it is enjoyable, there are a few moments that deviate away from the film's focus. For instance, towards the end, the film takes a detour when it begins to discuss the journey of an actress who played Berkley's character in both offstage productions of the Saved By The Bell musical and Showgirls: The Musical. Despite being touching, those moments are truthfully irrelevant tangents.
One other issue I had with this film is that I don't believe it can be fully enjoyed unless the viewer has already experienced Showgirls. I can't see anyone who hasn't seen the subject enjoying or even understanding the film, unless perhaps they've seen a majority of Verhoeven's other work. It's an unintentional exclusivity that hurts the film, but also shines a light on just how much of a great companion piece it is to the original source material.
You Don't Nomi could fly under the radar as a result of the risk it takes sensationalizing what many consider to be one of the worst films of all time, but it does such a good job at going to bat for the film that it makes an equally great case for it to be considered as one of the best films of all time. Whether you love or hate the campy classic though, one thing is for certain - You Don't want to miss this.