Private Benjamin (1980) Film Review


Only hours after socialite Judy (Goldie Hawn) marries for the second time, her husband passes away. Totally distraught and with no prospects or idea of what to do with her life, she in convinced by smooth talking 1st Sgt Jim Ballard (Harry Dean Stanton) to join the army. Once there, things are tough for Private Judy Benjamin, unused to physical labour or taking orders.

This is a Goldie Hawn classic, and there are a lot of reasons why. She’s very funny, but also her change from helpless-rich-girl to independent woman is pretty believable. What was a bit annoying was the not-quite-feminist-action going on. By this, I mean that the hard-ass female captain who trained and taunted the troops only to be unfairly dismissed after a fairly minor error in a training exercise then has a cruel joke played on her by the women of the troupe. Which could have been good had there been a greater sense that she deserved it. Instead, it just came across as an unnecessarily nasty against a woman trying to hold her own in the masculine world of the army. Also, the fact that Judy ends up posted in Paris due to sexual harassment and not for her own skills – why couldn’t she just have been competent?

It was 1980. Perhaps that’s why. Would it happen in a similar way now? I’d like to say no, but watch Legally Blonde from 2001. It seems that films are still discouraging women from taking appropriate action for harassment, instead using it to further their careers in some dubious manner. Oh, now I’m all angry and not liking the film nearly as much.

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Goldie Hawn), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Eileen Brennan, who played the training captain) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. It currently sits at number 82 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Movies poll (although given there are no films after There’s Something About Mary from 1998, this may need a bit of an update).

Private Benjamin was nominated for Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Goldie Hawn), Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Screenplay, Screenplay Written for the Screen.

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