This past weekend was a pretty big deal in our household. On Saturday, Joel and I celebrated our official one-year anniversary. From our humble beginnings sneaking around behind convenience stores in order to make out in semi-privacy, to our current inception as a cohabiting, Top Chef marathoning dream couple, this past year has been an amazing story of love between two people who kind of can’t stand other people.
As exciting as our anniversary was, this weekend also marked an even more titillating event in our personal history – the one year anniversary of the first time we viewed Showgirls together. One year ago, Joel came over to my house with two cases of beer and took in a movie that has been widely accepted as “so bad it’s good.” Showgirls had us creating characters such as chauvinist writer John Peters of The Misogynist Times, a man who loved to fast forward every scene that involved Nomi and Molly exploring their friendship in favor of iced nipples and cat fights. By the end of our viewing, I was absolutely convinced I was going to be mocking terrible movies with this man for the rest of my life.
Happy as I was to celebrate, there was one source of anxiety surrounding our anniversary – exchanging gifts. Joel is the best and worst kind of gift-giver – his gifts are always incredibly thoughtful and blow you away and you will NEVER be able to one up him. I tried my best this year, surprising him with a limited run Bane Funko pop figurine. He countered with two tickets to go see The Book of Mormon. In New York. On my birthday in two weeks.
He’s so damn amazing it kills me sometimes.
Not satisfied with providing only one mind-blowing gift, he also threw in a little treasure he stumbled upon online – an independent art house film entitled Showgirls 2 : Penny’s from Heaven. Once I overcame my confused anger regarding the fact that I was completely unaware of the existence of a Showgirls sequel, I became overwhelmed by the fact that almost a year to the date after our original viewing of the erotic melodrama, Joel had honored our love with a surprise continuation of one of my favorite stories.
Showgirls has been regular viewing of mine for years – mostly with my beloved friend Ryan, a bottle of whiskey and numerous remarks about both of us having “too much heat.” With a needlessly-defiant heroine, bisexual bitch of an antagonist and expert use of Kyle Machlachlan, Showgirls never ceases to entertain me. Nomi Malone’s commitment to the chronic-bitch-face pursed lip (a la Miranda Priestly in Devil Wears Prada), every single time a character interacts with her adds an unnecessarily-baffling depth to the character. Cristal Connors can’t go six minutes without condescendingly calling someone “darlin’.” Don’t believe me? Try taking a shot every time she does it. You’ll be nonfunctional before Nomi even debuts at The Stardust. Then there’s a little game I like to play called, “Pretend Kyle Machlachlan is actually Agent Cooper. ‘Damn fine lap dance! And hot!’”
My enthusiasm for the first movie spilled over into Penny’s from Heaven. Though not necessarily Oscar-worthy (to some, I believe there is room for debate), Showgirls has a heart and massive kitsch factor that sets a pretty high standard. Showgirls 2 seemed promising, especially after reading the selected reviews scattered across the back cover. Movies.com said it “goes to a manic superstar level all its own.” Gawker gave the most stellar endorsement: “So weird: Showgirls 2 Doesn’t suck!”
But the most convincing evidence that Showgirls 2 had heat was its own self described tone : “It’s Sunset Boulevard meets Whatever Happened to Baby Jane meets Mommy Dearest … in a G-String!” I would watch literally any movie that was marketed with that tag line. The fact that it boasts four of the original cast members only adds feathers to the headdress of my delight.
So Joel and I decided that, before an extravagant anniversary dinner at Aggio, we would indulge in the over-the-top erotic melodrama of Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven. Our viewing of the original film a year prior was so ridiculously enjoyable it only seemed appropriate. We figured this viewing would be just as delightfully ridiculous.
Let’s begin with the fact that I cannot for the life of me explain the plot of this movie because there are roughly six of them happening at random intervals throughout the film. The story begins with Penny Slot, a character we all remember as the naive stripper from the first movie who changed her name to Hope (because nobody wants to fuck a Penny) and started dating James, the choreographer that Nomi wasn’t interested in (but was still mad at) and ended up pregnant and engaged. The movie opens with credits that seem to be created in a make-your-own music video studio in a mall circa 1996, then jump cuts to Penny and James having a couple’s dispute/fucking with their clothes on/talking about T-shirts in their shitty apartment. I get the feeling that Penny has dreams and James does not, and this must be the source of a lot of tension in their relationship.
Then we cut to Penny’s day job at an outdoor strip club in an amusement park where a Donald Duck ride functions as a stripper pole. After predictably, but no less disturbingly, licking the duck during a dance, Penny ends up in some sort of altercation with a man who may or may not be her manager at the club (which I have decided to call Sex Flags America). Another stripper tries to fight her, and they sort of do, but then they sort of don’t. At the end of it they put Vaseline on their teeth, which for some reason happens several times throughout the film.
Overall, Penny doesn’t seem to be in the best place in her life. But that’s all about to change! (Maybe?) There’s a show called Stardancer shot in Los Angeles, and if Penny can just get there all her dreams could come true!
Fantastic, we have a solid plot with an identified end goal. Glad to see where this is going.
Or we could have Penny get mixed up in a random murder plot committed by a Marilyn Monroe lookalike for no particular reason. Yeah, let’s do that.
Then there’s the introduction of a bunch of drunken frat boys at a Bavarian beer garden. Penny helps them slurp down beer bongs under the pseudonym “Helga” (which she struggles to remember). One of the men decides to whisk Penny/Helga away to help her make her career, and being the savvy lady she is, Penny/Helga blindly follows him into unknown territory. This would be the sensible place to throw in a murder plot, but instead we are treated to a New Orleans voodoo house that might have something to do with Freemasons and for some reason has a man dressed like the devil treating everyone to a talent show.
I’m committed at this point. I’ll take your erotic melodrama turned house of the rising sun. What else could you throw at me?
Well, there’s an aging showgirl named Katya who hates Penny/Helga. Then she loves her. Then she hates her. She never really figures it out. But she does put her differences aside to teach her ballet in a day, as Penny/Helga has suffered from her lack of formal training. They also have pool sex that is so unappealing I just started playing 2048 on my phone during the exasperatingly long scene. I did, however, look up long enough to catch a glimpse of the two throwing their hands in the air like drunk girls at a Poison concert as they bump boobs and moan off key.
Everything seems to be going well for the two as they drink champagne that looks suspiciously like Mountain Dew and watch bubbles fly across the sky. But this peace is short lived, as Katya goes back to inexplicably hating Penny/Helga and behaving like a crazy person. In an effort to cope with her conflicting emotions, Katya decides to smear cold cream all over herself and her dressing room mirror in a rage that wins the award for Joan Crawford achievement in batshit insanity.
The movie takes so many bizarre twists after this that all I could do was catch what was thrown at me. A maid named Maria who is struggling to pay for detective school. A snuff film ring that wants to recruit Penny. Transvestite dancers vying for the star position. A fat man in a fedora. Two girls sharing a hotdog, Lady and the Tramp-style. Teeth gleaming with the ever present shine of Vaseline. As Joel put it, “I would say I’m lost, but that puts the responsibility on me.”
By the two-hour mark we had decided to push through until the end (yes, this movie is two and a half hours long). There was some resolution. Katya falls thanks to some sabotage from our multi-named heroine (spoiler alert: it involves Vaseline). James comes back and says some stuff to Penny about her big dreams and naivete. Then Penny gets arrested for acting as an accomplice in that murder we had all forgotten about. But don’t worry, Maria the maid has finally finished detective school and solved Penny’s case as her thesis, which she delivers in a giant gift box.
By the end of the movie, Penny has achieved the fame she so desperately craved, becoming a scandalized celebrity of a crime obsessed culture. She has also returned to one name, which is probably easier for her to remember.
Joel and I sat in stunned silence for a few minutes after the credits began to roll (over top the same make-your-own video screen as the introduction). What had just happened? The first time we viewed Showgirls we joked and laughed and could barely contain ourselves. This time we only spoke for the sake of plot clarification and reality checking. We agreed to watch an episode of The Simpsons to center ourselves before getting ready for dinner.
I’ve spent the last few days grappling with my feelings towards this movie, and though I’m still not completely sure of my thoughts, I can say one thing – Joel definitely wins this round of gift-giving. Whether or not Showgirls 2 is a good movie, or lives up to the original, watching it was an absolutely unforgettable experience.
Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven functions as more of a love letter to the first film rather than a sequel. It was penned and directed by Rena Riffel, who plays Penny in both films, and was meant to be satirical (though the complete lack of any functional narrative kind of eliminates any true capacity for that). But the film still has its charm, mostly because it feels as though it was written by Penny herself – a girl with big dreams and no clue how to accomplish them. From jarring jump cuts to a baffling decision to start using time lapse cues halfway through the film, Showgirls 2 comes off as a movie that demands your attention but doesn’t know what to do with it once its got it.
The original film was extravagant and overproduced, whereas the sequel is grainy and suffers from amateur cinematography and unedited lens refocusing. It’s the Cheetah to Showgirls’ Stardust Casino – lacking refinement, but still full of all the dirty good stuff you want.
Molly Regan is an improviser and writer in Baltimore. She likes chicken pot pie, Adam Scott’s butt and riot grrl.