Bad things threaten us. The second we're unable to reconcile our personal worldview with something that doesn't fit into it, we immediately reject it as without merit. It's not this black and white with films, of course, but elementally we accept parts of movies that work for us and discard the ones that don't. When Showgirls came out, just about everyone discarded that shit. Universally derided, it essentially killed Elizabeth Berkley's career and made her the laughingstock of a nation. Fifteen years later, we as film-watchers have the privilege of not belonging to that climate. We can watch Showgirls and not feel offended by its complete failures, but instead revel in them. In a word, this is 130 minutes of undiluted cinematic schadenfreude, a work of immense ambition that is almost too ridiculous to be believed.
Watching movies in this manner is not to everyone's taste. Throwing on a DVD explicitly to laugh at it probably seems mean-spirited, especially when you consider Berkley's contributions. She has so obviously poured herself into this role in every aspect possible, and it is a complete travesty. Nomi Malone is a violently passionate young woman, a trait that manifests itself in her dancing, her ambitions, her sex - everything. Though it may not sound like it, she is an extremely difficult character to portray appropriately, and Berkley's across-the-board failure is what makes Showgirls the bewildering disaster that most recognize it as. Instead of evincing passion, Berkley mostly evinces flailing, and in the most laughable way possible. Her incredible commitment and energy, the offerings of a starry-eyed actress dying to prove herself, means that the performance is never boring; in a way, Berkley's story kind of parallels Nomi, except I don't think Berkley had to beat any famous rock stars up. Of course, it is because her efforts were so awful that Showgirls has earned its reputation. I'm just saying that without her, we absolutely would not have Showgirls, and we will never have another movie like it. Big kudos to her for not being afraid to fail.
But what sort of universe is poor Elizabeth Berkley operating in? What kind of fucked-up movie could have given rise to the dolphin sex scene, or discussions about eating dog food, or the most conspicuous staircase push ever? Bizarre though this may sound, Showgirls is best assessed as a piece of magical realism, an anti-show business tale and a warning that history repeats itself. For the first hour or so, everything we see could conceivably happen, but what of the scene where Nomi delivers line for line the same speech Cristal does upon taking her place in the prestigious ("prestigious") Goddess show? The line is blurred with exceptional handsomeness. Seriously, this shit is a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book for the 21st century. And though I'm sure the messages are nothing new, the content being used to prop them up - the fully nude bodies of impressionable young actresses, most notably - are what make this film's warnings all the more cogent.
Some might argue that Showgirls is misogynist, or depicts sex in an inherently negative light. I think this brings the film to the base of the eternally-raging content vs. intent debate, where sex is only seen as a negative because people treat it negatively. The film illustrates a culture that makes young women into a commodity, and does it without an ounce of subtext or implication. Despite its condemnatory treatment of that culture, it nonetheless hangs itself by its own noose. So yeah, Showgirls is probably misogynist, but was there any way to tell this tale that wouldn't have been? The fact that it alone permits us the context we need to recognize it as such makes it, at the very least, a worthwhile argumentative piece. And come on, this thing has been kicked enough as it is. No one considers it an attack on feminism because it's so damn ridiculous. Anyone who legitimately thought that this offered a healthy picture of female sexuality would be laughed into hiding.
Anyway, Showgirls is not a movie to be intellectually legitimized (or is it?) It is a bold, incompetent, hilarious cinematic experiment and should be celebrated as the glorious pop trash it is. If you are capable of describing something as both awful and amazing in the same breath, then this will hit the spot like few other films. If you can't abide camp...don't even try.