Saturday, April 16, 2011

SHOWGIRLS (1995) - a gross physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country, but only for those chock full of true grit

A buddy and I were out looking for a solid night’s entertainment, some bang for the buck, if you will, when we happened upon a marquee advertising “The Vagina Monologues”. So, we head in, as the promise of vaginas is simply too good to pass up.

Ugh…what a mistake. How can I put this kindly…oh, yeah…WORST. STRIP CLUB. EVER. After about 10 minutes of listening to this chick babble on (she wasn’t even that hot!), me and my buddy left disgusted. Don’t strip club owners have any pride anymore? Whoever put on this show should be ASHAMED of themselves...ASHAMED!

Speaking of which, shame is a virtue that is noticeably absent in our main feature Showgirls, and thank the good lord, I say. It’s all rather fitting, considering the average Las Vegas stripper bypasses shame and heads directly to “HELLO MY NAME IS CANDY SOMETHING AND HERE IS MY VAGINA SO PLEASE GIVE ME MONEY!” It’s called an "honest living" folks. A Japanese businessman notices this dynamic at work and quips “in America, everyone is a gynecologist”. Yes, BECAUSE THEY CAN. Women make up 51% or so of the population, so it’s always a buyer’s market.

Jesse Spano, as Nomi Malone, finally breaks free from the constraints of Screech and company, stomping and plowing her way through a garish bubblegum soap version of Vegas. Along the way, she is run through the machinations of an A Star is Born/All About Eve plot that is rammed into the collective crotch of the audience. The gay community seemed to be on board with the film from word go, possibly because they are gonna be made fun of no matter what, so this frees them up to enjoy themselves amidst the putrid stare of “taste” (or maybe they're just not as uptight as the straightees). However, heterosexuals tend to fall into two distinct camps when evaluating Showgirls:

1. This movie was so bad I started yelling at my T.V., but, unfortunately, my dog thought I was yelling at him. While I continued watching, riveted as I was to this monumental pile of horseshit, my dog, deeply depressed that I no longer love him, snuck into the garage and started sucking on a muffler. After a few minutes, he tragically died. How he managed to start the car with those goofy paws of his I’ll never know.

2. Tits are fun! Dems the breaks.

While I was squarely in category number two when I first saw the movie on cable in high school, I have since moved on to a more rarefied category. That is, at it's heart, Showgirls is a great movie, a portrait of a vapid archetype that turns sad and empty. Just take a look at the film’s opening, where Nomi, a girl without family or past, hitchhikes to Las Vegas. Quite literally, she has only the clothes on her back (what little clothes they are; her tits are practically flopping out), a suitcase, and a “dream”. You know, to “make it”.

Nomi is picked up by a greaseball who only wants to get into her pants (well, daisy dukes), and she has to dissuade him at knife point. Such is every male character in the film, yelling out “nice tits!”, or maybe requesting a free lesson in amateur gynecology, an army of budding bikini inspectors. Only Kyle MacLachlan appears to rise above the “hello, please blow me” characterization, but, in the end, it come across as a big ruse used to charm his way into Nomi’s pants (well, g-string). The end of their relationship concludes with Kyle telling her what a good fuck she was. At least he’s honest, I guess.

Anyway, Nomi arrives and gets her first taste of Vegas, hitting the slots with naive vigor, even winning a jackpot. It seems her dreams of stardom are on their way. Not so fast, as she immediately loses her earnings on another slot machine, plummeting back to zero. A local sleazeball (Vegas is full of these guys) unsuccessfully tries to buy a blowjob, ominously proclaiming “sooner or later you’ll have to sell it”. Going off to retrieve her suitcase from the greaseball’s truck (not to be confused with the sleazeball, who lacks hair gel), she has found that he has vanished with said suitcase, and therefore, her identity. In her anger and frustration, she vomits. In the span of mere minutes, she went from rock bottom to a “winner”, and back to rock bottom again. A more self-evaluating person might see this as a microcosm of a self-defeating lifestyle and cut their losses, but not Nomi. No, she forges ahead undeterred.

At this point, she befriends Molly, the only honest soul in the entire film. Molly
is seemingly happy just working as a costumer, and is much more modest in her dreams, only wishing to meet hunky fake Kevin Sorbo/fake Fabio singer Andrew Carver. The bulk of the film consists of the more obvious A Star is Born/All About Eve backstage camp antics, the rising star willing to do anything to reach the big time. Nomi does finally reach her goal of starring in an upscale Vegas showgirl extravaganza that bravely combines volcanoes and titties, breaking the hip of the previous star (Cristal Connors) along the way. Molly also reaches her dream, managing to finally meet Carver but never stepping on any toes or hurting anyone along the way, even helping others out of the kindness of her heart. Well, this dream is deflated in spectacular fashion when Molly gets viciously gang raped by Carver and his cronies.

Nomi avenges the rape of Molly by beating the shit out of Carver, which is apparently supposed to make up for everything. However, he'll quickly heal from his minor wounds and probably won’t face prosecution. You see, he’s a major Vegas act, so it behooves any minor Vegas employee not to drive away his business, or otherwise their meager career and livelihood will be at stake. This apparently gives him the license to maim rape any female club/casino employee that catches his eye. While this "closure" might make Nomi feel better, this isn't a case of a hero truly righting a wrong. Once Molly manages to heal her torn vagina (seriously), she may still be blacklisted from costuming Vegas shows if she attempts to press charges for getting gang raped. You might think this would be a wake up call for Nomi. but, alas, no. To her, it is victory, pure and simple, but, to the astute viewer, this victory smells of futility and irony.

Nomi, in her mind, fought her way from the bottom to the top, from a common stripper at the Cheetah Club to a true “star”, headlining a bombastic Vegas show at Stardust. On paper, a showgirl may seem like a big jump in class from a stripper, a respectable landing spot for an aspiring dancer, but the movie repeatedly quashes this idea. As one character says to Nomi, regarding working at the Cheetah versus the Stardust, “what you’re doing, at least it’s honest. They want tits and ass, and you give them tits and ass. Here they pretend they want something else, and you give them tits and ass.” Nomi repeatedly tells people she’s not a whore, but rather, a dancer, her ultimate dream it would seem, but the world around her keeps telling her otherwise.  Perhaps they've noticed that her dancing is less "poetry in motion" and more "hey, I'm gonna dry hump the air".

Also reinforcing this idea are the cabs she rides in throughout the film, all of which have a Cheetah Club sign on the roof, as if repeatedly reminded her of her true station in life. When Nomi finally “makes it”, she reminisces with several employees from the Cheetah Club. What could be considered borderline prostitution, a strip club where the clientele can cum on you if they throw in a big enough tip, is quickly processed by Nomi as pure nostalgia. She is so enslaved to this idea of superstardom that any demeaning actions are immediately transformed into a mere bump in the road. The astute viewer, meanwhile, might view this stardom, this “victory”, as Nomi merely showing her tits to a more expensive clientele of creeps.

Back to the ending, where Nomi also makes peace with Cristal, who strangely doesn’t seem to mind that Nomi broke her hip and stole her job. Apparently, she “needed the rest anyway”, and also has one of those undying bi-sexual crushes on Nomi that no amount of deadly diva antics can erase. Cynically, when Nomi is introduced as the Stardust’s very own star and Cristal's replacement, the announcer uses the exact same verbiage that Cristal was introduced with. It seems that the girls are interchangeable and the show must go on. 

Well, either way, the pieces have fallen into place in Nomi’s head, except for the fact that word is about to spread about her real identity, that her sad childhood included being busted numerous times for prostitution and her parents being killed in a murder suicide, so she has to move on to another town (namely Los Angeles). So, she hitchhikes again in much the same way as the beginning of the movie, her tits still flopping out, and, whatta ya know, the same greaseball in a truck picks her up. The only difference between the ending and the beginning is an awkwardly drawn, garish Nomi Malone billboard erected nearby, proclaiming her interchangeable stardom for a tits and volcano show she is no longer apart of.  She lived only to climb the ladder of success, only to end up exactly where she started, with only a temporary highway billboard as her mark on the world.

In Nomi’s desperate attempt to "make it", she forces her way down whatever path of dreams is set before her, furiously stomping her feet along the way (whether literally or figuratively) without regard to who or what she tramples. She is a hero that overcomes great odds to reach the pinnacle, while, ironically, stomping in place the entire time. If that seems depressing, keep in mind the movie is filled with bright colors, hilarious dialogue, and, of course, diva antic-fu. Oh, did I mention there are beaver shots? If you enjoy that sort of thing, Showgirls, like a proper Vegas show, will probably give you your money's worth.


  1. Think of the opening narration of "The Big Lebowski" and substitute "Film" for "Man" and you get how I feel about this flick. It transcend standard good/bad and enters its own fever dream of Las Vegas. You matching it with Hunter S. is a perfect wedding of unsense and unsensiblity.

    Lazarus Lupin
    art and review

  2. @Lazarus
    Thanks! Showgirls might be the flip side of Fear and Loathing (the movie specifically).

    Unsense and Unsensibility is a perfect title for a Jane Austen slapstick spoof.

  3. When I saw Showgirls a few years back, my opinion was that it was quite as bad as everyone said; but gods, you really put a diferent spin on it. I rather enjoyed your review. Didn't really enjoy the nudity myself, though.