Review: You Don’t Nomi

Year: 2019
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Director: Jeffrey McHale
Stars: Adam Nayman, Haley Mlotek, April Kidwell, Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, David Schmader, Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon, Paul Verhoeven, Joe Eszterhas

By Bianca Garner

There are some films which have such a reputation that even if you have never seen the film, you know all about it and you know all the scandals, the controversies and drama that surrounds it. “Showgirls” is one of those films. A film with such a reputation that it goes beyond your average run-of-the-mill bad film. Ask anyone about whether they know about its existence, and I’m sure there will be many who will respond about how bad in quality it is, how scandalous its content is and there will probably be a lot of people who will admit that they actually kinda like it, it totally ironic kind of way, you get me?

Regardless of your own thoughts of the film, there’s no denying that it’s a film that has somehow remained part of the consciousness of cinema. Every so often a discussion will be kicked off about whether or not it’s an intentional or unintentional masterpiece or just a piece of junk, the answer may lay someone in the grayish hues of the middle.

Regardless of whether or not “Showgirls” is/isn’t a masterpiece, it is certainly a film that continues to puzzle/delight/anger/frustrate/baffle (delete where appropriate) so many of us. There are very few films that have this impact on pop culture, Kubrick’s “The Shining”, Aronofsky’s “Mother!”, Malick’s “Tree of Life” are a few films that spring to mind. 

Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls (1995) Photo by United Artists – © 1995 Twentieth Century Fox

“This is McHale’s first feature film, and frankly it’s brilliant! “You Don’t Nomi” offers an interesting insight into the warped genius that is Paul Verhoeven.”

However, none of these films managed to have such a dramatic impact like “Showgirls” did, none of those films managed to divide critics and audiences in such a way. This is a film that riled critics up in such a way that many were tripping over themselves in order to hurl out the best insult they could: “A film of thunderous oafishness” (Kenneth Turan), “A waste of a perfectly good NC-17 rating.” (Roger Ebert), and my personal favourite, “An overcoat movie for men who don’t want to be seen going into a porno theater.” (Rita Kempley).

It would take a brave individual to take on the task of deconstructing “Showgirls” and examining whether it’s a masterpiece or just plain shit. That brave soul is director, Jeffrey McHale with the fascinating, captivating and absorbing documentary “You Don’t Nomi” (a nice pun as “Showgirls” main character is called Nomi). This is McHale’s first feature film, and frankly it’s brilliant! It doesn’t offer up a definite conclusion of whether or not “Showgirls” is a masterpiece on the scale of something like “Citizen Kane” nor is it simply a hit piece.

Instead, McHale allows people like Adam Nayman, Haley Mlotek, Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, David Schmader, and Jeffrey Sconce to give their own opinions and interpretations of the film. Each person makes a compelling case, offering their own unique insights into a film which many others have simply written off. 

“You Don’t Nomi” also offers an interesting insight into the warped genius that is Paul Verhoeven, “Showgirls” director. To those unfamiliar with the rest of Verhoeven’s work (“Turkish Delight”, “Robocop”, “Basic Instinct”, “Black Book” and “Elle” are just a few films in his body of work), this documentary is a great way to show how his films evolved and how he became the man responsible for one of the worst films ever made. The studio probably expected a repeat run of the success of “Basic Instinct”, especially seeing as both “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls” were penned by the same screenwriter, Joe Eszterhas. 

Instead, what arrived in theatres was something that just felt messy, exploitative, deeply sexist and misogynistic. Some critics hailed it as “the least sexiest movie ever” and the film bombed. For all intents and purposes, “Showgirls” should have gone in the direction like so many other bad movies go, it should have simply faded away from all public consciousness.

“McHale’s documentary will allow you to see “Showgirls” through new eyes.”

However, there was something about the film that connected with people, in the same way that Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” and Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space” managed to transcend to the status of a cult movie. In “You Don’t Nomi” we hear how the film personally connected to people from all walks of life, especially those on the outer edges of mainstream society.

There is one incredibly powerful story from a woman called April Kidwell who endured the most foulest of sexual abuse, and joined a musical version of “Showgirls” playing Nomi. She managed to gain her freedom and became empowered through the unlikeliest of ways. How many films have you managed to connect with on such a level? Has there been a film that has affected you in such a profound manner?

McHale doesn’t resort to the standard documentary trope of talking heads type of interviews, allowing clips, news footage, interviews with Verhoeven and “Showgirls” stars Elizabeth Berkeley and Gina Gershon, to talk for themselves while the participants of the documentary offer us their collection of thoughts.

“I can’t tell you whether or not “Showgirls” is a work of art, or a masterpiece but I can assure that “You Don’t Nomi” is most definitely the best documentary this year.”

This makes for a beautiful mosaic of sorts, with footage of Verhoeven’s work showing us the ways in which his films are all slightly connected or how he uses motifs throughout his work, there is also footage from “Saved by the Bell” which suddenly take on a whole new meaning when we compare and contrast the character of Jessie Spano and Nomi, both played by Berkely. 

There’s so much to talk about with both “Showgirls” and “You Don’t Nomi”—the discussion of queer subtext that runs throughout “Showgirls”, the problematic use of the male gaze in Verhoeven’s work, the appalling treatment and mockery made of Berkley as an actress, and how come some bad films become cult classics and some don’t? However, this review would run on for too long.

Simply put, McHale’s documentary will allow you to see “Showgirls” through new eyes. Whether or not you like or dislike the film with a passion, it’s exciting to watch and listen to people discuss it with such enthusiasm and passion. This definitely one documentary I encourage you to seek out. I can’t tell you whether or not “Showgirls” is a work of art, or a masterpiece but I can assure that “You Don’t Nomi” is most definitely the best documentary this year.

“You Don’t Nomi” is Out On Digital and On Demand- June 9, 2020

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