Private Benjamin (1980)

private-benjamin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She joins the army.

Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) is having a tough time. She is only 28, but has already been married twice. The first time was for 6 years while the second time was for only 6 hours as husband number 2 (Albert Brooks) ended up dying of a heart attack while they made love on their wedding night. Heartbroken she calls into a radio show for advice and gets hooked into joining the army by an unscrupulous recruiter (Harry Dean Stanton) who makes it sound like it would be far more pleasant than it really is. At first Judy has a hard time adjusting to the rigors of a demanding Captain (Eileen Brennan), but eventually she finds new found self-esteem and coping skills that she never would’ve attained in the civilian world.

The film starts out awkwardly and a better scenario about how she joins the army could’ve been thought-up, but once it moves into the training camp segment it gets funny. In fact I would’ve extended these scenes more as it’s the best laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. Kudos also goes out to the editing by Sheldon Kahn who creates sharp transitions that accentuates the humor.

Hawn, who was pregnant with Kate Hudson when she was offered the role and had to go through 6-weeks of basic training to prepare for the part, is excellent in a film that helped bring her career out of the doldrums. In fact I would say this is one of her best roles and I enjoyed how the character becomes more confident and independent as it goes along.

Brennan is terrific as the nemesis and I wished her conflicts with Hawn had been played-up more. The character disappears too soon and manages to return briefly, but isn’t as effective. Her brief romantic encounter with the Craig T. Nelson character should’ve been cut as I saw this woman as being frigid, or even a closet lesbian who was married to the army because that is all she had, which made the scene where Hawn puts blue dye into Brennan’s showerhead seem cruel to me. Yes, she had been mean to Hawn earlier, but that was only because she felt her army career, which again was essentially her whole life, was being threatened and the other women should’ve been more sympathetic to that.

Hal Williams is good in support as the Sargent as is Sam Wanamaker as Judy’s overly protective father. Albert Brooks though is horribly wasted as the second husband and his heart attack is much too quick and mild to be realistic. Stanton is also shamefully underused playing an army recruiter that should’ve been investigated and out of a job for the outlandish misrepresentations that he gave.

The film does go on a bit too long and includes Judy’s romance with the Armand Assante character that seems like a whole different movie, but overall it still works although this has to be the tamest R-rated movie ever. I realize this was before the PG-13 era, but it still should’ve gotten a PG as the only ‘objectionable’ elements consist of the word ‘shit’, which is said once, a simulated sex scene that is brief and done with the characters under the covers and a segment involving the girls sitting around a campfire smoking pot. In fact 9 to 5, which came out that same year and was given a PG rating, had a similar pot scene that was much more extended.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

3 responses to “Private Benjamin (1980)

  1. Joseph Kearny

    The fun fizzles rather rapidly

  2. Once the Gomer Pyle style humor ends so does all the fun.

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