Looking at Adam Nayman’s defense of the movie ‘Showgirls’

Photo: Berkley
Tod Goldberg

Three stars

It Doesn't Suck: Showgirls By Adam Nayman, $13.

Attempting to convince someone that his opinion is wrong is often a fool’s errand. For the first 35 years of my life—and what would be the rest of her own—my grandmother attempted to convince me that I should enjoy tomatoes. She’d say, “They make every sandwich taste better!” And I’d usually respond with, “Unless you don’t like the way tomatoes taste.” So it goes with It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls, film critic Adam Nayman’s earnest attempt to rectify the public perception of what is considered one of the most rotten tomatoes in the history of cinema.

No artist sets out to create crap, and Nayman notes how director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas had bold plans for shining a bright light on the city of Las Vegas, the business of sex, entertainment, greed, lust, identity, dreams and … well, let’s be honest, the inside of a strip club. Having just come off the joint success of Basic Instinct, at the time it seemed possible Verhoeven and Eszterhas might very well be able to make a film that was gleefully salacious and also pure entertainment. They made the bold choice of plucking Elizabeth Berkley from the high school sitcom Saved by the Bell and dropping her on the groins of grown men inside Cheetahs. (Perhaps “bold” is the wrong word here, since it was probably more like pandering, specifically to teenage boys finally able to see R-rated films.)

Nayman argues that, “If the viewer wants to see a ‘piece of sh*t,’ chances are that he will; certainly enough people did and still do. If the viewer knows how to look, however, then Showgirls’ magnificence will reveal itself as grand and nakedly as a striptease.” The problem here is that people, when they go to see a film, should be able to see what’s important without someone whispering in their ear about significance and subtext, telling them what the writer, director and actor were trying to do. It should just coalesce in front of them.

Nayman ardently goes point by point through the film’s intended greatness with an academic fervor that is appreciable—Showgirls is compared favorably with the work of Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino and even Busby Berkeley—and shows that this isn’t all some winking irony. But his arguments falter the longer he writes, until he blames the critics for the film’s problems, concluding that perhaps it was a victim of “reviewers banding together to make a citizen arrest,” which discounts the larger issue at hand: Actual moviegoers hated the movie, too. Still, Nayman’s passion is entertaining, like sitting down with a friend who has just realized that you need to watch The Wizard of Oz while listening to Pink Floyd.

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