Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Showgirls”

Dear Frank,

So, I know that you have, technically, seen Showgirls — once, many many years ago. But here’s the thing, Frank — to only watch Showgirls once is to not be fully aware of just how transcendent a piece of entertainment it is; understanding Showgirls requires constant vigilance and study.

Of course, I say this as someone who watched Paul Verhoeven’s boob-straganza at least six times since its release on Laserdisc, two of which happened in the process of writing the paper “Bitchy or Just Misunderstood? All About Eve, Showgirls, and Female Melodrama” while studying film at USC. (TRUE STORY. I got an A-minus instead of an A because I spent too much time making fun of Showgirls. Looking back over the last ten years, I have clearly not learned my lesson.)

Comparing Showgirls to All About Eve is remarkably easy, because the former is essentially a remake of the latter. (Even the Razzies were aware of this.) Except that instead of being told from multiple points of view, Showgirls is seen entirely through the eyes of the batshit crazy ingenue hitching to Vegas to make her fortune.

Wearing her finest slutty paisley blouse, our gal Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell (a cultural touchstone of our generation) and her Samsonite get picked up by a guy who my boyfriend, two days after watching it for the first time, still refers to as “that Elvis fella.”

The second Elvis gets handsy, Jessie whips out her switchblade and screams at him, because Jessie is, as aforementioned, batshit crazy. I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable for her to hope that she travel unmolested; I’m just saying that her reaction would be more appropriate to him pinning her down and violating her. (Whoops! Spoilers!) Just assume that any time Jessie does anything in this movie, it is an over-reaction, and over-acted.

Jessie and Elvis arrive in Vegas, where he promises to hook her up with a job (given that her only clear job skills so far are having boobs and her own switchblade, it’s interesting to ponder what he has in mind) but distracted by the slot machines, Jessie doesn’t even notice that he’s driven off with her suitcase. This causes her to fling herself into oncoming Vegas Strip traffic — like you do — but at the last second she’s pulled to safety!

Her savior is a nice young lady named Molly, whose reaction to meeting this batshit crazy woman is to offer her a place to stay. Molly’s a wardrobe gal for a super-glam topless revue called “Goddess”; for a while, you think she’s going to be the only woman in this movie to escape nudity, but oh, you are wrong in the worst possible way.

Six weeks later, Molly and Jessie are besties, and Jessie is working for a less-than-classy strip joint called the Cheetah, which features plenty of girl-on-girl action as well as a zaftig stand-up comic who makes a lot of jokes about her ladybits. Jessie, as strippers go, ain’t too bad at her job, but she wants to be a “dancer” — a desire revealed when Molly sneaks her into “Goddess” and from the audience she mimics their fancy dance moves.

The show’s titular Goddess is played by Gina Gershon, who is the best and the funniest and calls everyone “darlin’.” To describe her performance in one word? Predatory. I mean, she’s a flat-out lesbian who’s very taken with Jessie from the beginning, though she’s also having sex with show manager Kyle McLachlan, which is probably why he’s trying to make his hair look butch.

(Uh oh, this picture has SPOILERS!)

Jessie doesn’t like Gina Gershon very much, because Gina’s idea of foreplay involves some super-catty put-downs, but later Gina and Kyle McLachlan’s haircut go to the Cheetah and Gina pays Jessie five hundred dollars to give Kyle a lapdance make him come in his pants.

Apparently this was a job interview, because another night a scout for “Goddess” comes by and offers Jessie an audition; she does well because she’s a dick to the dickish director, but is insulted when told to ice her nipples for full erect-ness. Despite storming out in a psychotic rage, though, she’s still offered the job — because, as she finds out later, Gina Gershon fixed it that way.

But, whatever, Jessie’s moved up to the big leagues — showing her tits to a ballroom of folks enjoying $10 steaks, while wearing a wide assortment of costumes. It’s at about this point in the movie that you become completely numb to the sight of naked breasts.

There are a number of funny little moments during this section of the film — Jessie buys a fancy dress from Versace and says the designer’s name proudly and phonetically, Jessie nearly gets whored out at a boat show to a Japanese businessman, Jessie seduces Kyle McLachlan and uses her abdominal core strength to turn his swimming pool into a jacuzzi.

That last item is a feat of physicality that is probably the most striking moment of Showgirls and Frank, I would dearly love to show it to you. However, because it is so very very not safe for work, the below will have to take its place.

Oh, by the way, there’s this whole other subplot where this guy who sees Jessie dancing at a club tries to get her to star in his modern dance show that he “choreographed just for her” (by “tries to get her to star” I mean “tries to bone her”). He is played by Glenn Plummer, who also appeared in Speed and Strange Days more likely because of his pretty cool dreadlocks than any real acting ability.

Jessie and Glenn do some sexy dancing at his loft but because she is a sociopath, she teases him and ditches him. I think his purpose in the film is to show that not all men are unredeemable bastards; however, he does end up knocking up the new girl at the Cheetah (who did fall for the “choreographed just for her” line), so it’s not really a victory for mankind.

Not that women really get out of this movie looking any better. Jessie gets so sick of being pushed around by Gina Gershon that she pushes back — literally, she pushes Gina Gershon down the stairs after a show, breaking Gina’s hip (Because Gina is so old! Like Bette Davis in All About Eve!Homage!) And after her little swimming pool session with Kyle McLachlan, Jessie’s Gina’s understudy and the new star of “Goddess”! Hooray!

I mean, Molly’s mad at her, because Molly saw Jessie pushing Gina. But Molly’s only trace of sexuality is that she has a hardcore crush on this Yanni-like singer named Andrew Carver, and when Molly finds out that Andrew Carver will be at Jessie’s big “fuck yeah I’m Goddess!” party, well, what’s a little attempted murder between friends?

So Molly shows up at the party and giddily meets Andrew Carver, who immediately lets his friends gang-rape her. This scene is gross and horrifying and completely unnecessary (not that any of this movie is necessary, but whatever); I have tried to prepare you for it by making some references to rape earlier, but rape jokes are never funny and really you just feel very very sad for Molly.

Confession, Frank — during my most recent rewatch of this last Saturday, with a delightful crew of friends, I fell asleep around this point (in part because if you drink every time Jessie hits something or says the word “dance,” you drink more than a little bit). But all that really happens is that Jessie’s secret hooker past is discovered by the “Goddess” management (who actually insist on paying their dancers legally and doing background checks — good for them!).

It’s thus time for Jessie to skip town, but before she does, she does have some unfinished business. First, Jessie puts on hooker boots and nipstick and goes over to Andrew Carver’s house to beat the shit out of him with her ninja stripper skills. “Goddess” may have found out about her secret hooker past, but did they uncover any training with the CIA?

And then Jessie goes to see Gina in the hospital. They make out and then Gina gives Jessie her signature cowboy hat. Because these are things that rational human beings do. Did you know that Joe Eszterhas was paid $3.7 million for writing this script? Because he totally was.

Finally, Jessie hitches her way out of town — and boy oh boy, who should pick her up but Elvis! Switchblade fun ensues, as Jessie was really very fond of her Samsonite. This seems like an ignoble ending for our heroine — alone, her only friend brutally raped, her fame brief and transitory. Yet when asked if she won big in Vegas, Jessie says yes.

And that, truly, is why she’s insane. Remember that, Frank, as you pursue your dreams in the rough-and-tumble entertainment world. Remember always, Frank, to bring your switchblade.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on October 11, 2010, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. According to IMDb, scandal of the rape and its cover-up were based on a real event, which was the inspiration for the movie. I would argue that not only was this scene necessary, it is the only thing that redeems this movie for what it was supposed to be: an expose for the hushed-up underworld that people don’t see in Las Vegas.

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