Once considered one of the worst films ever made – and with eight Razzie awards to show for it – Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls has had a minor reappraisal in recent years. It remains a cherished touchstone for gays and bad movie aficionados, but you’ll also now find critics far more open to defending it as a genuinely misunderstood work of cynical social commentary.
Like many enigmas, the truth about Showgirls lies somewhere in the middle. There definitely is more to it than the misguided skin-flick it was dismissed as by some at the time, as borne out by Verhoeven’s continued defence of it, and the quality of his subsequent work, including the equally satirical Starship Troopers and the equally provocative Elle.
But it’s also true, and fairly broadly acknowledged, that if there was a streak of dark humour running through Showgirls, not all of the performers were necessarily in on the joke. The best camp often has a streak of tragedy, and it doesn’t come much more tragic than the career-killing effect of Showgirls on its young star Elizabeth Berkley.
Berkley is legitimately bad in this film, and in such a myriad of fascinating and watchable ways. Her jerky movements, her stilted line readings, her wild emotional shifts. They’re all just as jaw-dropping as you’ve probably heard, if not more so. She didn’t deserve the tornado of abuse she received when the film came out, but it would be disingenuous to pretend her performance isn’t so compelling in large part because of how completely misjudged it is. It is easily up (or down) there with The Room‘s Tommy Wiseau in terms of iconically weird performances.
Perhaps feeling a little guilty about the disastrous effect the film had on Berkley’s career, Verhoeven has since claimed that the former Saved by the Bell starlet was giving exactly the performance that he asked for. You can well believe this – nobody could call what she’s doing boring or lazy. It’s a huge, committed swing that lands very wide of traditional good acting. But it really is great fun to watch.
On the other side of the coin, Gina Gershon survived the Showgirls fiasco relatively unscathed because she gave every impression that she knew exactly what kind of movie she was in. Drag queens have built entire careers around her vampy line readings as Vegas diva Cristal Connors, and with good reason.
In this week’s episode, we break down our personal highlights from this legendary movie, including fast food abuse, Nomi’s constant storming out of literally every scene that she’s in and some genuinely baffling sex scenes. We also attempt to add to the long-established canon of Showgirls drinking games, check in with our listeners for their reactions and pitch some sequel ideas to explore Nomi Malone’s mysterious back story and some possible new chapters in her rampage of destruction.
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Next week, we’ll be sticking to the theme with a classic, intentional comedy about strippers that went all the way from Northern England to the Oscars. Until then, happy listening and remember – never invite a crazy person you just met to move in with you. No good will ever come of it…