Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Howard Zieff|
|Produced by||Nancy Meyers|
|Written by||Nancy Meyers|
Mary Kay Place
Harry Dean Stanton
|Music by||Bill Conti|
Barry De Vorzon
|Cinematography||David M. Walsh|
|Edited by||Sheldon Kahn|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Private Benjamin is a 1980 American comedy film starring Goldie Hawn. The film was one of the biggest box office hits of 1980, and also spawned a short-lived television series. The film is ranked 82 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs list, and 59 on Bravo's list of "100 Funniest Movies".
Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn), a 28-year-old Jewish woman from a sheltered wealthy upbringing whose lifelong dream is to "marry a professional man," joins the U.S. Army after Yale Goodman, her new husband (Albert Brooks), dies on their wedding night during sex. Adrift, Benjamin tells her story on a radio call-in show and meets an Army recruiter, SFC James Ballard (Harry Dean Stanton), who leads her to believe military life will provide the "family" she seeks. He also tells her that the service is glamorous, comparing it to a spa vacation. She has a rude awakening upon arriving at basic training. Judy wants to quit almost immediately, and is astonished to learn that she cannot, contrary to the assertions of her recruiting sergeant.
Army regulations and the continuing disapproval of both Captain Doreen Lewis (Eileen Brennan) and SFC L. C. Ross (Hal Williams), her drill sergeant, frustrate her, but when Judy's parents (Sam Wanamaker and Barbara Barrie) arrive at Fort Biloxi to take her home, she decides to stay and finish basic training, which she does with distinction after a wargames exercise where her squad exposes an affair between a member of her training platoon and an officer from another company (with whom Lewis had also been having an affair), and take the leaders of both sides hostage. Upon completion of basic training, Judy meets Henri Tremont (Armand Assante), a French doctor, who is in Biloxi for a medical conference. They separate after a brief romance; Henri returns to Paris, and Judy enters training for the Thornbirds, an elite paratrooper unit.
She quickly finds that she was chosen for paratrooper training because the unit's commander finds her attractive; after the other trainees have taken their parachute jump he attempts to sexually assault her on the plane. When she refuses to comply, he attempts to have her transferred as far away from Biloxi as soon as possible. Rather than accept what she sees as an undesirable post in Greenland or Guam, she negotiates an assignment to SHAPE in Belgium, and meets up with Henri again on a visit to Paris. He proposes marriage and she accepts, but when Captain Lewis discovers that Tremont is a communist, Judy is forced to choose either her Army career or love.
After she chooses Henri and gets engaged, Judy discovers Henri's controlling side. He tries to "remake" her, and also insists she sign a prenuptial agreement (in French) to protect his family home held for centuries. Then, when she finds out Henri is still in love with his ex-girlfriend Clare and has cheated on her with their maid, she realizes that she is capable of doing whatever she wants and that she does not need Henri in her life. In the final scene, just as Judy is about to get married again, she walks out on Henri at the altar.
The film holds a score of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews, with an average rating of 6.67/10. The site's consensus reads, "Private Benjamin proves a potent showcase for its Oscar-nominated star, with Hawn making the most of a story that rests almost completely on her daffily irresistible charm."
Roger Ebert gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and praised it as "an appealing, infectious comedy" in a review that concluded, "Goldie Hawn, who is a true comic actress, makes an original, appealing character out of Judy Benjamin, and so the movie feels alive, not just an exercise in gags and situations."Vincent Canby of The New York Times called Hawn "totally charming" and praised Zieff's "great skill at keeping the gags aloft and in finding new ways by which to free the laughs trapped inside old routines about latrine duty, war games, forced marches and calisthenics."Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, calling it "old-fashioned, commercial Hollywood filmmaking at its best -- an upbeat, delightful comedy with a gentle message."Variety wrote that the film "is actually a double feature -- one is a frequently funny tale of an innocent who is conned into joining the U.S. Army and her adventures therein; the other deals with the same innocent's personality problems as a Jewish princess with only an intermittent chuckle to help out."Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times panned the film, calling it "a movie you don't salute, you court martial. It may or may not violate the Articles of War but it raises holy hob with the laws of film making, the first of which is that you start with a good script." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a peculiarly unappealing throwback to the traditional service comedies like 'Buck Privates,' 'Caught in the Draft,' 'See Here, Private Hargrove,' et al.," with an "aimless screenplay" that leaves Hawn's character "less likable than the one at the beginning."Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote, "Goldie Hawn demonstrates what an accomplished comedienne she is--she carries 'Private Benjamin' on her back."David Ansen of Newsweek called the film "an uneven but highly enjoyable mixture of sociological satire, basic-training slapstick and feminist fable."
Private Benjamin was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Goldie Hawn), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Eileen Brennan), and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, Harvey Miller).
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
In 1981, Private Benjamin was made into an Emmy and Golden Globe-winning television series of the same name that ran from 1981 to 1983. Set during the events of the film, it starred Lorna Patterson, Eileen Brennan, Hal Williams, Lisa Raggio, Wendie Jo Sperber and Joel Brooks. Brennan and Williams reprised their roles, those of Captain Doreen Lewis and Sergeant L. C. Ross respectively, from the film for the television series.
In March 2010, Anna Faris was originally cast to portray Judy Benjamin in a remake of Private Benjamin from New Line Cinema, but in May 2014, it was confirmed that Rebel Wilson would portray Benjamin in the remake. Amy Talkington was in talks to write the script, which was to update both the story and the screenplay on which Harvey Miller, Nancy Meyers, and Charles Shyer had initially written in collaboration, and Mark Gordon was set to produce.
The new take Talkington was in talks to adapt would re-set Miller's, Meyers's, and Shyer's story in contemporary times, with modern wars as the backdrop. Insiders said that the studio wanted neither to poke fun at the people in the service nor take political potshots, but instead sought to focus on the empowerment elements and to build on the fish-out-of-water comedy. But as of the beginning of August 2018, no new word was available on the project.