All About the Lie: Verhoeven's Showgirls (1995) - Reviewed

Paul Verhoeven is perhaps one of the last great satirists.  From dystopian cyborg Jesus allegories to sly takedowns of American jingoism, he has always been a mirror to the American now.  His masterwork; the only NC-17 wide release in American cinema history, Showgirls masquerades as a trashy couture retread of All About Eve while simultaneously deconstructing the myth of the American Dream.  The result is an absolutely ridiculous dreamland romp with lights brighter than imagined heavens and shadows conjured from the demons of show business that remain alive and well today.

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. Berkley’s performance is the lynchpin in Verhoeven’s subversive critique of obsessions with fame.  It is apparent, almost immediately that everyone in the cast, apart from Berkley is in on the joke.  Gina Gershon, Kyle MacLachlan, Robert Davi, and Glenn Plummer all revel in the dingy, back alley glitter storm on display while Berkley approaches each of her scenes with a naïve sense of ferocity, perfectly emulating the dream chasers who arrive in Hollywood everyday only to become faded memories within months. 

Robert Davi steals the show as Nomi's surrogate father and first boss, a strip club owner. His dialogue with Berkeley forms the backbone of the first act, which then build into an inorganic nightmare. Gina Gershon is the foil, the current queen of the spotlight and her sexual chemistry with Berkley is easily the film's most risqué delight. MacLachlan is the love interest and he gives an appropriately wooden performance, supporting the film's madcap structure while emulating the concept of the savior producer.  MacLachlan is more an idea than an actual character and it is this realization that drives home Verhoeven’s dissent. Plummer rounds out the central players as Nomi's bodyguard, guardian angel, and 30 second dance Sensei who allows her to climb the ranks of stardom without actual demonstration of discipline or talent, yet another reminder about the myths of success. 

While a satire and a garbage pail twin of All About Eve, Showgirls is clearly making several statements at once. Sexual violence, sexual acrobatics, and sexual currency are all 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 presentss Nomi's story as a neon-induced, sexually charged Alice in Wonderland, in which the monsters are men and the rabbit is the idea of fame rather than its unpleasant realities.

The biggest weakness is also the film's greatest strength. Joe Eszterhas' script is ludicrous; filled with memorable lines and preposterous interactions.  Berkley’s absolute commitment to it is the centerpiece. 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.

The third act tone change is another interesting component, with Verhoeven reminding the viewers that underneath the glamour and humor there are real victims and real pain that form the true foundation of the moving lights that entertain.  It is this unexpected juxtaposition that makes, Showgirls a one of kind venture. The audacity in its presentation is something that demands complete surrender to its unpredictable, frivolous, and terrifying aspects, all of which are interchangeable under Verhoeven’s masterful direction.

Showgirls is the ultimate adult fairy tale that will forever be known for its colossal failure, but it will always be remembered for its jaw dropping delivery. A beautiful mess of a film.

--Kyle Jonathan