If you were being generous to Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven’s notorious 1995 bomb about a dancer named Nomi Malone who dreams of starring in a topless Vegas revue, you could argue that the film meant to critique Hollywood’s tendencies toward sexual objectification by exaggerating them to ridiculous extremes, like Verhoeven did with cop tropes in his earlier hit Robocop.

With You Don’t Nomi, filmmaker Jeffrey McHale gives that argument a fair airing — but also succeeds in exploring Hollywood, and storytelling itself, in a way Showgirls doesn’t approach.

You can keep reading if you like, but we’re just going to summarize a conversation better enjoyed on Apple, Spotify, or here.

McHale, a television editor by day, uses a cavalcade of video from Showgirls and Verhoeven’s films, including Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers, to try to truly understand the director’s intentions. He shows that for all the critical pans of Showgirls, Verhoeven really did know what he was doing, from a technical standpoint.

Whatever else you can say about the film, it looks gorgeous. Spectacular costumes aside, it has first-rate production, editing and sound design — it’s clearly intentional, in its good decisions and its mind-boggling ones. No one can accuse Paul Verhoeven of ineptitude. He believed in what he believed and went all in, for better or worse.

What Is Showgirls About?

The film — an NC-17 theatrical release — drew immediate attention in part because of its risqué reimagining of an old, All About Eve inspired story. The film follows Nomi as she guilelessly — then ruthlessly — vies to replace established Vegas showgirl Cristal (Gina Gershon). Kyle Maclachlan is the charismatic, starmaking Zack Carey.

Critics at the time met it with a mix of mockery, skepticism and good old fashioned pearl clutching — so turned off by its trashy aspects that they reject whatever higher-minded intentions the filmmakers may have had.

McHale tells us on the podcast how his interest in Showgirls was fired in part by a screening of the film in a cemetery that featured a good-natured introduction from Elizabeth Berkley, the Saved by the Bell star who committed completely to the role of Nomi — at Verhoeven’s direction — and whose career suffered as a result.

He also discusses how the film belongs now to its audience — who embrace it for its camp, its wildness, and an LGBTQ message that many have found after the fact.

You Don’t Nomi also rather dazzlingly parallels the lives of Berkley, Nomi, and April Kidwell, an actress who played a variation of the two in a campy Showgirls-inspired musical.

You Don’t Nomi surprises us with the discovery that Verhoeven’s film is  very worthy of analysis — and for showing how audiences’ reactions to and interpretations of a film are sometimes more inspired than the film itself.

You Don’t Nomi, directed by Jeffrey McHale, is now available on demand, and highly recommended.

Main image: Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi in Showgirls.