You Don’t Nomi: Jeffrey McHale

You Don’t Nomi
You Don’t Nomi
Directed by Jeffrey McHale

by Alex Plant

“I came to Showgirls late in life”, remarks Jeffrey McHale, the filmmaker whose debut feature You Don’t Nomi just played at the 63rd annual BFI London Film Festival. The film is essentially one big deep-dive on Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 disasterpiece Showgirls. McHale may have only discovered the seven-Razzie award-winning film late in his life, but he’ll never forget the first time a friend showed him the movie on DVD. “My mind was just blown. There’s so many questions you have. It’s hard to watch it and not think about the making of it.”

Showgirls received a critical mauling and was a box-office dud when it was released, and while you can’t exactly say that the years have been kind to it, it’s certainly found its audience as a popular midnight movie. “The fans and the audiences have kept it alive,” says McHale. “The reason we’re still talking about it now is because cult and queer audiences have celebrated this thing for the last 25 years.”

You Don’t Nomi adopts a video essay format, in the style of the excellent Room 237, which does a similar deep dive into a more well respected film: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. However, this wasn’t how McHale, a TV editor by trade, originally set out to make the film. “I didn’t quite know what exactly it was gonna be, what format. But I knew I was gonna collect all these interviews.” Eschewing the traditional ‘talking-head/making of’ format many movie documentaries take on, You Don’t Nomi features interviews with academics, critics and fans alike, but isn’t one big love-in. McHale obviously has a fondness for Showgirls, but isn’t afraid to dive into much of the negativity that still surrounds the film today. “I’m a fan of the film, but I wanted to have an honest conversation about it.”

A key component of the documentary is the way McHale reexamines Showgirls in the context of the rest of Paul Verhoeven’s back catalogue, and not just his blockbuster Hollywood movies such as Total Recall, Robocop and Starship Troopers, but also his earlier dutch movies as well. “You can’t look at Showgirls and not look at everything else. The common belief, at least in America, is that Showgirls doesn’t fit in with the rest of his films.” You Don’t Nomi poses the question of why Showgirls isn’t seen as satirical and subversive in the same way as Verhoeven’s more action oriented films are, despite their overriding thematic similarities. “In Starship Troopers his satire was more obvious. When he’s dealing with violence, audiences are able to understand what he’s doing and what he’s saying. When he’s dealing with sex in the forefront people are a little uneasy.” Verhoeven hasn’t yet seen the documentary, but McHale hopes that he gets to show it to him “someday.”

Showgirls contains many memorable moments, including some of the least sexy sex scenes ever committed to film, but the film is perhaps most remembered for the stupendously over the top performance from star Elizabeth Berkley as titular showgirl Nomi Malone. Sadly, Berkley is the person who bore the brunt of the blame for the movie’s failure and what perhaps should’ve been a star-making role essentially ruined her career. “She was just singled out. Unfairly,” states Mchale. Thankfully, You Don’t Nomi is a cathartic experience for fans who believe Berkley was given an unfair due, as the journey of her relationship with Showgirls forms the emotional climax of the documentary.

The other highlight of You Don’t Nomi is its analysis of the infamous and baffling ‘doggy chow’ scene, where Nomi and rival showgirl Cristal discuss a fondness for a particular brand of dog food over a fancy dinner. If any scene sums up the ridiculousness of Showgirls, it’s this exchange, which seems like it has a rich layer of subtext to it, but is literally just a conversation where two women admit to enjoying eating dogfood. For McHale it’s a no-brainer for the film’s best scene. “It’s definitely Doggy Chow. It’s the crown jewel.”

 
 

Our review of You Don’t Nomi

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