The first time someone mentioned the movie Showgirls, I was sitting at a gay hookah bar in Boston (douchey and yet somehow the most appropriate setting to first learn about such a cinematic masterpiece). My friend Dylan questioned whether or not I had ever seen the film.
“I’ve never even heard of it,” I confessed, as the table sitting next to us piped up.
“You’ve never heard of Showgirls,” exclaimed the extremely befuddled stranger. “What do you mean?! It’s Gina Gershon’s finest moment. You have to watch it immediately.” The next thing I knew, it was a week later and Dylan, my roommate and I were all watching Elizabeth Berkley gyrate and lick a stripper pole in the comfort of our living room, as our landlord peeked in through the windows to find out what all the hullabaloo was about.
If you’ve never seen Showgirls, the 1995 erotic melodrama directed by Paul Verhoeven, whose film credits includes classics like Robocop, you’re officially missing out on all the good parts of life. In short, the movie follows the struggles of a 20-something rough and tough drifter named Nomi Malone, who hitchhikes her way to Vegas to follow her dreams of becoming a showgirl. Through a series of incredibly confusing, poorly acted scenarios, Malone winds up working as a stripper at Cheetah’s, a topless club on the seedy end of the strip, and later on as a dancer in the show “Goddess” at the Stardust hotel. Originally intended as a social commentary on the nature of sex work and the politics behind it, what Showgirls actually became was somehow even better — one of the weirdest, most hilarious, cult classic movies to date.
There are many things that could be said about Showgirls — all of the quotable lines and references to thrusting and hard nipples, Elizabeth Berkley’s wonderfully heinous acting, or maybe the fact that Kyle MacLachlan has somehow managed to escape scrutiny and casually sweep his role as Zack Carey under the rug after all these years. But the thing that’s probably the most memorable about this weird, little turd of a film is just how unbelievably bad it is. Just when it seems it can’t get any worse or more cringe worthy (read Malone making her nipples harder with ice per the instruction of her choreographer), it proves us wrong time and time again. It blesses us with such iconic cinematic moments like Malone’s pronunciation of Versace — “Versayce” — and the infamous Carey/Malone pool sex scene in which Berkeley somehow defies all laws of nature, and doesn’t drown while violently flailing in what might be the most confusing sex scene ever caught on camera.
To think that someone on the executive board of MGM greenlit this movie is beyond astounding, and yet we somehow keep coming back to it. It is horrendous in every single sense of the word, from the relentless jazz hands that plague every dance number to the absolutely iconic scene in which Malone and Gershon’s character — Crystal Connors — both confess their love for doggy chow (I swear this is a real thing that happened. I couldn’t make this up even if I tried). And yet somehow, Showgirls is timeless. It is exactly how I imagined the mid-‘90s world of Las Vegas clubs and showgirls, and yet nothing like it at all. If we learned one thing from Showgirls, it’s that “there’s always someone younger and hungrier comin’ down the stairs after you.” And how to thrust it — that too.