Private Benjamin (1980 film)
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|Directed by||Howard Zieff|
|Written by||Nancy Meyers|
|Produced by||Nancy Meyers|
Mary Kay Place
Harry Dean Stanton
|Cinematography||David M. Walsh|
|Edited by||Sheldon Kahn|
|Music by||Bill Conti|
Barry De Vorzon
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$69.8 million|
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. Private Benjamin 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, Judy 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 pitches the service as a glamorous getaway, comparing it to a spa vacation, but Judy has a rude awakening upon arriving at basic training. She wants to quit almost immediately, but is astonished to find out, contrary to the assertions of her recruiting sergeant, that she cannot leave.
Army regulations and the continual disapproval of both Captain Doreen Lewis (Eileen Brennan) and SFC L. C. Ross (Hal Williams), the drill sergeant, frustrate Judy—but when her 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 war games exercise in which her squad exposes an affair between a member of her training platoon and a rival company officer (with whom Lewis was also having an affair), and takes the leaders of both sides hostage. Upon completion of basic training, Judy and her friends spend the weekend on leave in New Orleans, where she meets Henri Tremont (Armand Assante), a French doctor there for a medical conference. After a brief romance, Henri returns to Paris and Judy begins training with an elite paratrooper unit, the Thornbirds.
Judy quickly discovers she was chosen for paratrooper training because the unit's commander finds her attractive; after the other trainees have jumped from the plane, he attempts to sexually assault her. When Judy refuses to comply, he attempts to have her transferred far from Biloxi as soon as possible. Rather than accept what she sees as an undesirable post in Greenland or Guam, Judy negotiates an assignment to SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) 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 between the Army and love.
After she chooses Henri and gets engaged, he reveals his childish, controlling nature. He tries to "remake" Judy, and also insists she sign a prenuptial agreement (in French) to protect his centuries-old family home. Finally, when Henri sleeps with the house maid and also makes it obvious that he hasn't gotten over his ex-girlfriend Clare, Judy has a change of heart. On her wedding day, in the middle of the ceremony, she realizes she is on the verge of a huge mistake. Judy abandons Henri at the altar and heads off into the unknown, empowered by her newfound freedom and excited about what may lie ahead.
- Goldie Hawn as Private Judith "Judy" Benjamin
- Eileen Brennan as Captain Doreen Lewis
- Armand Assante as Henri Alan Tremont
- Robert Webber as Colonel Clay Thornbush
- Richard Herd as Brigadier General Foley
- Sam Wanamaker as Theodore "Teddy" Benjamin, Judy's father
- Barbara Barrie as Harriet Benjamin, Judy's mother
- Gretchen Wyler as Aunt Kissy
- Mary Kay Place as Private/2nd Lieutenant Mary Lou Glass
- Harry Dean Stanton as Sergeant First Class Jim Ballard
- Hal Williams as Drill Sergeant L. C. Ross
- P. J. Soles as Private Wanda Winter
- Craig T. Nelson as Captain William Woodbridge
- Albert Brooks as Yale Goodman
- Alan Oppenheimer as Rabbi
- Toni Kalem as Private Gianelli
- Damita Jo Freeman as Private Gloria Moe
- Alston Ahern as Private P.J. Soyer
- Lee Wallace as Mr. Waxman
- Danny Wells as Slick Guy
The film holds a score of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews, with an average rating of 6.65/10. The site's consensus reads, "Private Benjamin proves a potent showcase for its Oscar-nominated star, with Goldie 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 grossed $4,739,769 from 763 theaters in its opening weekend, finishing at the top of the US box office. It added 36 more screens the following weekend and increased its gross to $4,935,571, finishing number one again, with a 10-day gross of $11.5 million.
Awards and nominations
Private Benjamin was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress (Goldie Hawn), Best Supporting Actress (Eileen Brennan), and Best Original Screenplay (Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, Harvey Miller).
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #82
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- Pvt. Judy Benjamin: "I did join the Army, but I joined a different Army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms." – Nominated
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. For the series, Brennan and Williams reprised their film roles, again portraying Captain Doreen Lewis and Sergeant L. C. Ross respectively.
In March 2010, Anna Faris was cast to portray Judy Benjamin in a Private Benjamin remake from New Line Cinema, but in May 2014, it was confirmed that Rebel Wilson would portray Benjamin in the remake. Amy Talkington was in discussion to write the script, which would update both the story and screenplay on which Harvey Miller, Nancy Meyers, and Charles Shyer had initially collaborated. Mark Gordon was set to produce.
The new adaptation Talkington was exploring would reset Miller's, Meyers', and Shyer's story in present day and set it against the backdrop of current military conflicts. According to insiders, the studio wanted neither to make fun of military service people nor take political potshots, but sought instead to focus on the empowerment elements and build upon the fish-out-of-water comedy. As of the beginning of August 2018, however, no new word was available on the project.
- Never Wave at a WAC (1953)
- She's in the Army Now (1981 TV)
- Private Valentine: Blonde & Dangerous (2008)
- Box Office Mojo. "1980 Yearly Box Office Results". Archived from the original on 2014-10-23. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
- "Private Tutor". Infoplease.com. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
- "Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies" on Lists of Bests". Listsofbests.com. 2006-06-02. Archived from the original on 2009-02-02. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
- "Private Benjamin". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Ebert, Roger. "Private Benjamin". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Canby, Vincent (October 10, 1980). "Film: Goldie Hawn as 'Private Benjamin'". The New York Times. C6.
- Siskel, Gene (October 10, 1980). "'Benjamin' — a message and Goldie to boot". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 3.
- "Film Reviews: Private Benjamin". Variety. October 8, 1980. 20.
- Champlin, Charles (October 10, 1980). "'Private': The Script Went AWOL". Los Angeles Times. Calendar p. 1.
- Arnold, Gary (October 10, 1980). "No Salute for 'Benjamin'". The Washington Post. E7.
- Kael, Pauline (November 10, 1980). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 205.
- Ansen, David (October 20, 1980). "Goldie in Khaki". Newsweek. 84.
- "50 Top-Grossing Films". Variety. October 22, 1980. p. 13.
- "Weekend Domestic Chart for October 10, 1980". The Numbers. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
- "Private Benjamin Marches On (advertisement)". Variety. October 22, 1980. pp. 18–19.
- "50 Top-Grossing Films". Variety. October 29, 1980. p. 9.
- "'Benjamin' At $11.5-Mil". Variety. October 22, 1980. p. 4.
- "The 53rd Academy Awards | 1981". Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2018-02-26.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-21.
- "Anna Faris to star in 'Private Benjamin' remake (exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2010-03-30.
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