Getting to “Nomi”: Is “Showgirls” Really That Bad?

Brandon Judell
4 min readJun 10, 2020
Is Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) bipolar? Or does she just like poles?

After binging on three overseas “slow-burns” from Netflix — Broadchurch, Hinterland, and Bordertown — addictive, complex looks into child abuse, corporate corruption, fried corpses, more child abuse, troubled priests, and a woman held underwater for three days until her skin starts dissolving, it’s certainly nice to be confronted again by American-made sleaziness.

Jeffrey McHale’s supremely entertaining documentary, You Don’t Nomi, is a no-holds-barred celebration and vivisection of the seamy underbelly of what’s been enshrined as the worst film of the ’90s, Showgirls. That flop of flops was a $40-million follow-up of sorts for director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas who had paired up previously for the lesbian icepick-killer thriller Basic Instinct (1992). The duo thought they could do no wrong after their history of separate and paired successes (e.g. RoboCop (1987); Flashdance (1983)). Ah, well.

“It’s All About Eve in a G-string,” noted one critic on Showgirls.

This is “a story about a hyperactive eyeliner junkie out to rule the world,” summarized another.

“Valley of the Dulls” screamed a review, while The New York Times’ Janet Maslin added “that when a group of chimps get loose in the showgirls’ dressing room and all they do is defecate, the film enjoys a rare moment of good taste.”

The New York Times takes its potshots at a “masterpiece” or a “hot mess”?

Before I go on, please note that no prior knowledge of Showgirls is necessary to have a blast viewing Nomi. I’ve already gleefully watched this doc two-and-a-half times while I only could bear the original once. It was at a 10:00AM critics’ screening in 1995, and all I clearly remember is the infamous ice-cube nipple scene. The rest is a blur except that upon leaving the theater and walking along Sixth Avenue in extremely bright sunlight, I realized I could do without simulated swimming-pool copulations, lap…



Brandon Judell

For half a century, Brandon Judell has covered the LGBTQI scene and the arts. He currently lectures at The City College of New York.