ItDoesntSuckBy ADAM NAYMAN (Pop Classics; 2014)

Here we have a wholehearted book-length defense of SHOWGIRLS, director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’s notorious 1995 hymn to stripper life in Las Vegas.  In IT DOESN’T SUCK Toronto film critic Adam Nayman argues that the film is a significant, if not exactly “good,” product, and “proves” this by taking us through SHOWGIRLS scene by scene in the manner of those BFI Film Classic books.  

My own history with SHOWGIRLS is, I believe, fairly typical: upon first viewing it in 1995 I was appalled, but inclined to give it a second chance on VHS, in which format it actually played better than it did on the big screen (and no surprise, as it was on the small screen that I was introduced to beloved crap-taculars like THE OSCAR, MANDINGO and CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC, in whose company SHOWGIRLS fits quite nicely).  That fact is reflected in the film’s fortunes, which were initially quite dire but have improved considerably over the years; SHOWGIRLS is currently ranked as one of MGM’s most successful films, having grossed over $100 million on the home video market.  

Nayman is frank about the film’s ridiculousness, noting “classic” lines of dialogue like “It must be weird not to have people coming on you” and a sex scene that “looks more like the first ten minutes of JAWS,” as well as SHOWGIRLS’S similarities to previous Verhoeven films like THE FOURTH MAN and BASIC INSTINCT (and other directors’ work like THE SHINING, EYES WIDE SHUT and much of the post-2000 filmography of Quentin Tarantino, an admitted SHOWGIRLS fanatic).  Much attention is paid to the nuances of the performance of Elizabeth Berkley, whose “acting,” Nayman correctly argues, accurately sets the tone for the movie overall.  Nayman also discusses 2011’s straight-to-DVD SHOWGIRLS 2: PENNY’S FROM HEAVEN, a film whose craziness is fully intentional, and so far less interesting than that of its predecessor.  

I don’t agree with all of Nayman’s claims.  Like many mainstream film critics he has a tendency to over-intellectualize, and perhaps delves a bit too deeply into a film that, enjoyable though it may be, is total crap from virtually any standpoint.  Still, I’d recommend IT DOESN’T SUCK in place of most of those aforementioned BFI Film Classic books, as, like the film it celebrates, it is at least fun.