Tribeca 2019: "You Don't Nomi" 
Saturday, May 4, 2019 at 9:31PM
NATHANIEL R in Paul Verhoeven, Showgirls, Tribeca, You Don't Nomi, documentaries, film critics, film festivals

Team Experience reporting from Tribeca Film Festival which wraps up tomorrow. Here's Nathaniel R

Of all the titles that I most looked forward to at Tribeca's 2019 edition, You Don't Nomi was at the top of the list. The debut documentary from Jeffrey McHale examines the cult fandom and critical rehabilitation (of sorts) surrounding Paul Verhoeven's trash-masterpiece Showgirls (1995). And readers, I was not dissapointed so much as seething with envy while watching it...

For what this new documentary feels most like, is not a traditional showbiz documentary so much as a polished long-read or even an old school blog-a-thon betwixt cinephiles. Perhaps it's the lack of talking heads (you hear people discussing the film but don't see them)? Or maybe it's the gonzo use of film clips which makes it feel more like a extremely lengthy video essay than a standard doc? In short, I was furious that I hadn't thought to make it as a long-time devotee of this movie, who literally went on opening night in 1995 and then waited impatiently for decades for the world to catch up. (I have never in my life felt this while watching a movie, which is the only reason I bring this up. I despise the popular belief of thin-skinned filmmakers / creatives that every critic wants to be making the thing, rather than writing about it... otherwise I wouldn't add fuel to that particular fire.)

This highly personal response is brought to you by the sad realization about halfway through the movie, that almost everyone quoted, beyond Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Esterzhas in archival interviews, is someone who came to the movie well after its initial run, lured to it by its infamy and fandom rather than having lived through it and grappling with it in real time. This probably-all-the-same-age talking head approach, along with the absence of non-devotees (only one older critic is interviewed who stands by their initial pan), makes for an oddly imbalanced documentary. Were it not for the smart jabs at Verhoeven and Esterzhas for what they say now versus what they said then (hindsight being oh-so flattering when employed this way), You Don't Nomi would feel like a 92 minute genuflection.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! To paraphrase and repurpose a line from the film, when it comes to Showgirls I'll 'never be too old for that whorey look.'

The weakest element of You Don't Nomi beyond the aforementioned imbalance of voices is easily the anonymity of the talking heads. I never thought I'd say this about a documentary that rescues us from the bland visual doldrums of the form, but it really helps to know who is talking if you're trying to follow an argument or want to give them mental credit for their insights.

The best parts of the documentary are, naturally, the film clips themselves which perhaps says less about You Don't Nomi than it does about the indefatigable entertainment value of Showgirls.

Verhoeven directing a dance sequence

Still, to McHale's credit, the film clips chosen are used with great panache, particularly when it comes to the use of the rest of the rest of Verhoeven's filmography. McHale deliciously deploys great moments from just about every Verhoeven picture -- I cherished seeing bits of Fourth Man, Robocop, and Turkish Delight in an actual movie theater since I'd only seen those films on VHS when I was younger. He uses them to comment on Showgirls and sometimes, in even more interesting fashion, to become a part of Showgirls. These fusions of a singular filmography are a demented trick, as flexible and spazzy in their own right as Nomi Malone herself, fucking in swimming pools or thrusting on command from sweaty stages.

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