Private Benjamin (1980)


“To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first…” —William Shakespeare, Henry VIII

I’m sure many of my faithful readers (hi, grandma!) have been on the edge of their seats waiting for my next blog post. While watching and writing about movies is high on my priority list, it’s not quite as high as spending time with my family. My dad, mom, and sister Julie recently took an end-of-the-summer trip to Los Angeles to visit me. The last time I saw them all was in August 2015, so having some family hangout time was long overdue. Yes, Hollywood is a movie city, but when you’re reunited with loved ones after being apart for a year, the last thing you want to do is sit and stare at a screen with them.

It has made me smile to find little connections between the movies on AFI’s comedy list. For example, the last movie we talked about was Lost in America (1985) starring Albert Brooks. The next movie, Private Benjamin (1980) begins with Goldie Hawn marrying Albert Brooks in a Jewish wedding ceremony. Unfortunately for Brooks’ character, he dies on their wedding night…barely into Act I of the film. Goldie Hawn’s character, Judy, is at a loss of what to do; she has always belonged to someone. She takes the advice of a late-night caller on the radio and decides to join the army.

A lot of the comedy in the first part of the movie stems from the fact that Judy is not prepared, enthusiastic, or even remotely interested in boot camp. She files her nails and asks her superior why the bathrooms aren’t more sanitary, which results in kneeling at the toilet and cleaning it with her electric toothbrush. I suppose some viewers might find the film reinforcing of gender stereotypes about women’s inferiority when completing physically demanding tasks. Perhaps, but by that same token, many men would be equally lacking of the physical skills required to get through boot camp. I promise you I would be huffing and puffing alongside Goldie Hawn in those training montages. That brings to mind this wonderful flashback scene from Steve Carell’s version of Get Smart (2008):

Her friends, fellow army women, and especially her parents think she’d be better off in a different line of work. As the movie unfolds, Judy starts to embrace her life in the army because it’s what she wants to do and no one can stop her. Unfortunately, the audience wonders for 100 minutes if she will apply this same philosophy to her love life. Will she end up marrying the new love interest who wants her hair dyed a different color, makes her sign an agreement (written in French) that she will not be entitled to inherit the estate, and delays the wedding four hours because he was spending time with another woman? I won’t spoil it by giving away the details, but know that the protagonist does rise victorious from the battleground of her failed relationships.

My biggest complaint with the movie was the last scene. It wasn’t bad, I just wanted a tiny bit more. She throws her wedding veil into the lake and runs away from us as the closing credits appear on the screen, essentially saying, “I’m gonna do my own thing.” That’s great, but what are you gonna do Judy? You’ve got all these fans now, and we want to know what happens next! Then again, maybe it’s better to leave me with the best-case-scenario in my head. The one where she goes off and becomes the female version of Rambo instead of fishing her veil out of the lake next week and getting hitched to another schmuck she barely knows.

Oh, and to anyone who actually thinks women can’t do physically demanding things, I just have one question for you. Did you watch the Olympics this year?