Streaming Review: “You Don’t Nomi”

Directed By: Jeffrey McHale
Starring: Elizabeth Berkley, Paul Verhoeven, Adam Nayman, April Kidwell
Runtime: 92 mins.
RLJE Films

My introduction to Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls was definitely by accident on some random childhood afternoon on a local network because my memories are of a hazy mishmash of ‘why does Jesse-from-Saved by the Bell looked Like That?’ and laughing at the crude 90s tech that they used to ‘paint’ dodgy cgi bras over very naked chests. So in tackling McHale’s documentary You Don’t Nomi, I knew I’d have to take another look. I don’t regret it as such but I was not converted into the cult that this doc’s trailer alluded to. That doesn’t mean You Don’t Nomi isn’t worth a look for the uninitiated. On its surface, You Don’t Nomi may appear a puff piece on something so-bad-it’s-good but it puts in a surprising amount of work to show not only Showgirls’s second life as a camp crowdpleaser but also how a critically reviled film evolves over time–even in the eyes of its filmmakers.

There is no better way to describe the 1995 critical reception to Showgirls than dog pile. It was brutal in that way that it becomes a sport unto itself to find the snarkiest pull quotes. It tanked Elizabeth Berkley’s transition from sitcom actress to the big screen and took the sexual thriller momentum that Verhoeven had in the US off of 1992’s Basic Instinct and sent him back to the more marketable sci-fi with Starship Troopers (Instinct was preceded by Total Recall and Robocop). The doc delves deep into Verhoeven’s career and finds parallels and themes that connect Showgirls back into his work in Europe before he escaped to Hollywood. Unfortunately the documentary did not manage to include modern interviews with any of the creative forces on the film but again, in diving into archived footage, the documentary exposes how Verhoeven and Berkeley in particular have decided over time to try and sell that they knew all along that their film was camp. As one of the speakers in the doc says, camp is “failed seriousness,” so I don’t really buy their attempt to control that narrative but as a storyline in the documentary, it’s very amusing.

Despite the box office flopping, Showgirls found a second life in midnight screenings, drag shows and an off-broadway musical. For me, Nomi hits its stride by zeroing in on the experience that the actress who played Nomi in the musical parody had and the difference it made in her life. Watching her account, as well as those of the drag hosts of sold out midnight showings I kept thinking about that speech from Pixar’s Ratatouille where critic Anton Ego says “the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” -Hey if McHale can take a campy stripper movie seriously, I can defer to the wisdom of the cartoon rat movie. Even though I couldn’t relate to their obsession, I can certainly pinpoint pop culture hills I will die on and on that level I enjoyed hearing from such a well researched niche.

You Don’t Nomi is now streaming On Demand and digital, an additional review by Mike Gencarelli was posted earlier here

Film Review: “Elle”

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte and Anne Consigny
Directed By: Paul Verhoeven
Rated: R
Running Time: 131 minutes
Sony Pictures Classic

Our Score: 4 out 5 stars

“Elle” has put me in an uncomfortable situation as a male reviewer because I’m going to have talk about rape. The act has been used before, so in that sense, it’s nothing new. Moviegoers have seen it in “Straw Dogs,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” and other films. Sometimes it’s the focal point or a moment that punctuates a grisly reality or message. But in “Elle,” there’s something disturbingly different about rape. It seems like an afterthought in the busy life of Michele (Huppert) and slowly becomes a tool of empowerment.

The movie begins with an intruder, breaking into Michele’s home, quickly and savagely raping her, as her gray cat casually looks on. He finishes and flees without much thought, leaving her unconscious and bleeding. It’s a difficult scene, no doubt. But what happens next is bizarre. She picks herself, goes to work, and even tells her son that she won’t entertain the thought of calling the local authorities. But that doesn’t stop her from daydreaming about murdering the rapist with her own bare hands.

It almost seems like she’s too busy to worry about the rape. She’s got a company to run with a video game that’s nearly half a year behind schedule. She seems unfazed by the video game graphics of a demonic creature molesting and raping an innocent woman, or the excessive amount of sexual and graphic violence that her all-male staff seems to be worried about inserting into the game itself. Then there’s all the family drama at home.

Her son can’t stand-up and assert himself in his own marriage, her ex-husband lingers trying to suckle at her own success, her mom lives with an escort, and her dad is one of the most infamous serial killers France has ever seen. “Elle” seems to be saying that the rape is almost the least of her worries, and certainly one of the least most screwed up things to happen in her life. That’s not to take away from the ferociousness of the movie’s opening moments.

“Elle” is an unpredictable journey that explores the psyche of a woman; Not a victim. It’s impossible to foresee how the movie unfolds because most of the time, Michele is shattering stereotypes and clichés of how society feels a rape victim should react. That’s not to say that this movie could be viewed as grossly insensitive to actual rape victims. But to put it bluntly, it is liberating to see someone who realizes the horrors and stigmas attached to rape, only to relish in it and use it as fuel for a much deeper and darker fire.

You don’t have to wait long for the rapist in “Elle” to reveal himself, unleashing a myriad of moral and ethical questions, both for Michele’s character and the man behind the ski mask. The surrealism of the movie is perfected by Huppert’s performance, which feels tragic at first, but unflinching when she breaks through the shackles of the viewer’s expectations. Huppert gives Michele a realistic range, which seems even more daunting when you begin to realize that Michele’s purpose may be to subvert a lot of society’s views of violence, sexuality and innocence.

Director Paul Verhoeven took a bold step directing “Elle” because it’s hard to imagine a mainstream audience stomaching it past five minutes or seeing Michele as a relatable character. It’s crazy to think that this is the same man who brought American audiences, “Hollow Man,” “Starship Troopers,” and “Showgirls.” With that in mind, this could be a middle finger to American taste and sensibilities after Hollywood flushed him down the toilet.