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Private Benjamin
War, Comedy
IMDB rating:
Howard Zieff
Robert Webber as Col. Clay Thornbush
Robert Hanley as Arnie
Estelle Marlov as Vocalist at Wedding
James Dybas as Photographer
Sam Wanamaker as Teddy Benjamin
Lee Wallace as Mr. Waxman
Goldie Hawn as Pvt. Judy Benjamin - Judy Goodman
Armand Assante as Henri Alan Tremont
Barbara Barrie as Harriet Benjamin
Mary Kay Place as Pvt. Mary Lou Glass
Eileen Brennan as Capt. Doreen Lewis
Harry Dean Stanton as 1st Sgt. Jim Ballard
Albert Brooks as Yale Goodman
Storyline: When her husband dies in the wedding night Judy decides to join the army. What looks like a bad decision at first, turns out not so bad at all. That is, until her superior makes sexual advances. She is transferred to NATO headquarters in Europe and (re)meets the Frenchman Henri. Judy and Henri decide to marry, but will they ?
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A fun story 2/3 of the way with sparkling performances from the leads
Goldie Hawn had one of her biggest hits with the 1980 comedy Private Benjamin, an entertaining comedy that provides more than its shares of laughs, even if they don't sustain the length of the entire film.

Hawn received a Best Actress nomination for her enchanting performance as Judy Benjamin, a bubbly, Jewish-American Princess whose sheltered existence is completely shattered when her new husband (Albert Brooks) dies of a heart attack during sex on their wedding night. Aimless and clueless about what to do with her life now, Judy enlists in the US army on a whim after being duped by a slick recruiter (Harry Dean Stanton) about what the army could offer her.

The strongest part of the film focuses on Judy's complete ignorance about the military and what it involves, including her disappointment at learning that green is the only color the uniforms come in. Judy's struggle with army life is further complicated by her battle of wits with her hard-nosed commanding officer, Captain Doreen Lewis (supporting actress nominee Eileen Brennan). The hate/hate relationship between Judy and Lewis is the strongest part of this comedy and just as it reaches a fever pitch, Judy's parents arrive at the base to take their baby home because they had no idea what she had done and, in a moment that induces cheers, Judy grows up and tells her parents she is going to stay.

Surprisingly, this is where the film begins to lose steam as Judy is drafted as part of an elite military squad and becomes involved with a European playboy (Armand Assante), who wants to turn Judy back into the spoiled princess she was, completely dependent on a man that she used to be, but the film is still worth watching.

Howard Zeiff's spirited direction is a plus as is the solid support provided by Barbara Barrie and Sam Wanamaker as Judy's parents, Mary Kay Place as one of Judy's fellow soldiers and Robert Webber as the squad leader who recruits the new Judy for his team and though the film does peter out, it is a pleasure most of the way, thanks primarily to Hawn and Brennan, who makes their roles sizzle.
Good, though it's not sure what it is
Goldie Hawn is "Private Benjamin" in this 1980 comedy/drama also starring Eileen Brennan, Sam Wanamaker, Barbara Barrie, Mary Kay Place, and Armand Assante. Hawn is Judy Benjamin, whose second husband dies on her wedding night. Inconsolable, she calls into a radio show, where another caller says he can help her. When they meet, he turns out to be an Army recruiter who promises her a condo on the water and says she can quit if she doesn't like it. Adrift, Judy joins. She doesn't get the condo, and the only water is when it rains or she falls in the mud during training.

In spite of having no interest or commitment and incurring the wrath of her superior (Brennan), when Judy tries to go AWOL, the army gives up and sends for her parents. It's then that Judy decides to become a soldier and refuses to leave. She does well, and after sexual harassment from an officer (Robert Webber), she gets to be transferred anywhere she wants. She chooses France, so that she can take up with a one-night stand with a French doctor (Armand Assante) who visited America.

The problem with this film is that it's Goldie Hawn, and audiences expected a comedy and instead got more of a comedy-drama. It's almost two films, the second beginning when Judy becomes re-involved with the Assante character.

On the plus side, the acting is terrific, and the film holds interest. If the writers hadn't tried to do too many things at once, or been clearer with their intentions from the beginning, the movie could have been a lot better. As it is, it's good, and a great vehicle for two wonderful talents, Hawn and Brennan.
Predictable 80's Fluff, but enjoyable all the same *** out of *****
'Private Benjamin' is probably Goldie Hawn's best movie, or at least most well known. Her role as a rich bitch in a fish out of water tale is one she has milked over the years, but here it was quite original and she is at her least annoying, The script by Meyers,Shyer and Miller is one they could do in their sleep and is quite Funny even if it does get incredibly mushy and slushy as the Movie goes on as her character falls for French smoothie Armand Assante. This was a big hit in it's day and deservedly so, but this story has been done to death in the years since and is quite similar to Bill Murray's Movie Stripes which came out barely a year later.

Premiere Magazine voted this one of the 50 greatest comedies of all time, while I wouldn't go that far as it's not much better or worse than most of her repertoire.

*** out of *****
Too many films in one ** Warning Spoilers **
Judy Banjamin (Hawn) is a spoiled Jewish-American Princess whose honeymoon and life-plans-for-happily-ever-after are spoiled when her husband dies on her wedding night. You see, she never had an identity of her own -- nor had she ever had to understand what it means to work hard to make yourself a better person. The next 75 minutes has Eileen Brennan playing Segreant Carter to Benjamin's Gomer Pyle, but with Corporal Hal Williams along to add perspective, Hawn eventually earns some respect from outside and inside after giving us a few memorable zany gags and two or three pratfalls in the process. So far, so good. But somehow, some decision-makers in this film thought it was necessary for Judy to learn separately and show us separately that as a self-respecting woman, she now has what it takes to walk away from a demeaning and suffocating man, flatly and unconvincingly played by Armand Assante. That subplot makes the movie 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, and shifts the emphasis away from the film's best characters. Still OK, but half as good as it could have been.
Avoid Part 2
In "Private Benjamin" Goldie Hawn demonstrates what made her a star: blond hair, child's eyes, and an astounding ability to laugh at herself. Here she sends herself up as both a dumb blond AND a Jewish princess, and the formula would serve as the prototype for every film she made afterward. If this is Goldie at her best, why isn't the film considered a classic? You ask a good question, friend...

The first hour of the movie is delightful. Fish-out-of-water Judy Benjamin joins the Army. Judy aggravates the tough-as-nails drill instructor (Eileen Brennan), develops as a soldier and a person, triumphs at war games and inevitably dances to Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" with her fellow cadets in the ultimate display of female bonding. (Sync cycles, anyone?)

Hmmmm... that's odd. The movie's over. But according to the box there's still an hour left. What could possibly come next? A bizarre adventure in which Officer Judy gets stationed overseas, falls in love with a Frenchman, and has to decide whether to marry him or re-enlist in the army. I found my mind wandering during the second-half... I started making mental grocery lists, naming state capitals... it was very difficult to stay focused on a movie that had so clearly lost its focus. The scattershot second-half of the movie only serves to undo the good of the first half. Maybe this is why the movie fails to endure as a classic.

Still, there's a lot of laughs here, with Goldie Hawn at her best.

Private Benjamin
I had heard different versions of what this was about, the most common mistake about the plot was that it was a true story about a lesbian female soldier LOL, so I'm glad I watched it and putt all that straight, from director Howard Zieff (The Dream Team, My Girl). Basically Jewish-American woman Judy Goodman (Oscar and Golden Globe nominated Goldie Hawn) marries Teddy Benjamin (Sam Wanamaker, Zoë's father), and it looks like she will be happy, but she is shocked when her new husband dies on their wedding night during sex. She one day after meets 1st Sgt. Jim Ballard (Harry Dean Stanton) who convinces her that life in the army is actually quite glamorous, and with no sense of worth anymore she decides to enrol herself. Of course when new Pvt. Judy Benjamin gets a rude awakening, and is forced into doing vigorous boot camp training, and also getting into trouble a lot she really wishes to get out of it, but as she gets to know the fellow recruits and the lifestyle she is determined to stick it out. During her time in service she does find another love interest with dashing French doctor Henri Alan Tremont (Armand Assante), but this is short lived as he has to return to Paris, and her promotion gives her more duties she must stick to. However they are brought back together again when she is sent Belgium, and Henri proposes marriage to Judy, which she accepts, but her boot camp officer Capt. Doreen Lewis (Oscar nominated Eileen Brennan) finds out he is a communist, and she is forced into deciding whether to stay with him or in the army. She does choose her new romance over her duty, and it is only later she discovers her love interest's controlling side, he tells her for example to sign a prenuptial agreement, and then worse she finds out he is still in love with his ex, and he has cheated on her with a maid. Judy realises on the day of the wedding that she can do anything she wants, and with Henri having been unfaithful in two instances she leaves him in the altar, and walks off into the distance to go and live a new life. Also starring Poltergeist's Craig T. Nelson as Capt. William Woodbridge, 12 Angry Men's Robert Webber as Col. Clay Thornbush, Barbara Barrie as Harriet Benjamin, Girl, Interrupted's Mary Kay Place as Pvt. Mary Lou Glass, Finding Nemo's Albert Brooks as Yale Goodman and Halloween's P.J. Soles as Pvt. Wanda Winter. I can agree with the critics, it is a bit of a one joke film, the joke obviously being that the army is full of female soldiers (which of course isn't completely real life) and that the leading character is wimpy and scatterbrained, but as that character Hawn does give a nice performance, and so does Brennan as her commanding officer, overall it is not a bad comedy. It was nominated the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Worth watching!
A comedy with heart
Many of the reviewers have complained that this movie isn't funny enough. I'm not sure what that means. While there are certainly funny moments in this film, it's not intended to be pure slap-stick or laugh-riot farce. Rather, it's a poignant tale of a woman asserting her independence, as told through a comic vehicle.

Another complaint is that too much is going on and that the film doesn't know what it wants to be. Again, I'm not sure what this means. I think the narrative is very straight- forward and all aspects of the story serve to illuminate the central theme: that women no longer need to define their lives according to traditional roles dictated by men.

Goldie Hawn's performance is subtle and charming. She's a delight to watch, and her comic timing can border on genius. Perhaps the best example of this is when she and her army friends are sitting around the campfire smoking pot and she tells them the story of how her second husband died on their wedding night. One of the friends, played by Mary Kay Place, says gravely, "I don't get it. What does a person do after something like that?" After a beat, Goldie Hawn responds, "Join the army," and they all burst out laughing.

I believe that this movie has withstood the test of time, but maybe that's because I'm pushing 50.
Enlist with Judy. You could use a good laugh.
Hawn's string of successes in the 1980's, Swing Shift, Overboard, Protocol, Seems Like Old Times, and Private Benjamin, are among my favorite comedies of all time. She has timing, presence, and character galore, and this one may just be at the top of my Goldie Hawn list.

The cast is extraordinary. Eileen Brennan is a showstopper as the, shall we say, less than feminine company commander and Benjamin's nemesis, but that's not the start of it. There's an embarrassment of talent here. Craig T. Nelson as the amorous Capt. Woodbridge, Armand Assante as the even more amorous Henri Tremont who sexes Benjamin up, and the still more amorous Albert Brooks, the husband who dies sexing her up, are all stellar. But Sam Wanamaker (see The Competition) and Robert Webber (both sadly deceased) are male role models who may not exactly set the bar very high as father figures, but add a delightful pseudo-machismo as counterpoint to all the talented women.

Mary Kay Place seems so young as a fellow recruit, even more so than in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, which is a nice segue to the fact that this, like many Hawn movies, draws from a distinguished television pedigree to deliver its surprising success.

This is one of those perfect little movies that I pull out of the DVD closet several times a year like visiting with an old friend, and it just occurred to me why. It's not nihilistic or deconstructionist or multi-plotted or any of the other crap that has supplanted story and dialog in too many movies since. It's sad that the only available version of the DVD is in pan and scan, as with some other great movies of this era, but I keep hoping for a widescreen release.

Favorite Line: "There are mine fields out there. Most of them are inert. However, some are ert." My recommendation: Enlist with Judy. You could use a good laugh.
One word-good!
Yet another movie where there seems to be many mixed opinions. My personal opinion is that this was an unbelievably funny, involving wacky comedy with Goldie at her finest. Private Benjamen is one that I haven't seen in awhile but I enjoyed it tremendously at the time, as I enjoy most of Goldie's work.

To be honest, the movie might not have worked so well if it had included a lesser talented actress in the main role. Goldie Horn's sense of comedic timing is right on the money and she rarely misses. In this movie she is funny as usual and that's good because honestly the movie's plot while good, is so impossible to swallow in some places, it might have been miserable with another, less funny actress.

I think this is a movie not to be taken to seriously. I didn't really take anything majorly serious away from the movie, it's pure entertainment, your classic outrageous situations. If one doesn't look to deep into this one can have a good time with it. It is REALLY funny and keeps you laughing. I'd rate this a solid 8 of 10. (which for me is a b or bplus.) This is solid funny stuff.
As Uneven As The Times
THE POST Vietnam War years were a sort of mixed bag of conflicting attitudes, changing social mores and an unsure future. Every one of these elements are reflected in the films of that era and the elements that comprise the uneven mood and mission of PRIVATE BENJAMIN are typical.

ALTHOUGH THE CONFLICT in Southeast Asia is not a player in the film, the now (1980) vilified Military is at the center of the story. One could gather that the writer and production team inferred that one's choosing to join or to make a career of the Armed Forces was below the dignity of anyone who wishes to "make anything of himself."

PROMOTED AS A COMEDY starring vehicle for Miss Goldie Hawn, the movie proves to be much more complex. We concede that, yes it is a comedy in the Classic, Shakespearean sense and there were many a moment of high readings on the old laugh-meter. But there is always an underlying feeling of tension, uncertainty and indecision.

THE PERFORMANCES BY the cast were better than average; with star Goldie Hawn and Eileen Brennan's lively interpretations of the women of the U.S. Army being the most interesting aspect of this uneven and preachy comedy-drama.

THE FOLLOWING YEAR (1981) Warner Brothers launched a PRIVATE BENJAMIN TV Series; which ran on CBS. In the series, Eileen Brenan reprised her role from the feature film. She was the only hold over./
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