PRIVATE BENJAMIN – Retroview by Valerie Kalfrin

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Giddy society princess Judy Benjamin had modest ambitions. When she was eight, she told her best friend that all she wanted someday was “a nice house … nice clothes, two closets, a live-in maid, and a professional man for a husband.”

So begins 1980’s Private Benjamin, which sees Judy (Goldie Hawn) joining the U.S. Army after her husband drops dead on their wedding night, something Judy never imagined could happen. She didn’t think much about the army, either, beyond the chance to get away from it all in the condos that the recruiter promised. She showed up at basic training in a black dress and heels.

It’s a safe bet that the Judy at the start of Private Benjamin also never thought about turning 40 someday. Yet here we are.

It’s hard not to picture Judy as a precursor to Elle Woods in 2001’s Legally Blonde and a descendant of Billie Dawn in 1950’s Born Yesterday. Private Benjamin is a mixed bag overall, but it gets enough right that it landed on both the American Film Institute’s and Bravo’s lists of favorite comedies.

Nobody remembers “Private Benjamin” for the third act with the French gynecologist (Armand Assante), who romances Judy but turns out to be a heel. Some scenes, such as an attempted rape, are misplaced in a comedy, especially these days. Continue reading…

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Valerie Kalfrin

Valerie Kalfrin

Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist turned freelance film writer whose work appears at RogerEbert.com, In Their Own League, Script, The Hollywood Reporter, and other outlets. Also a screenwriter and script consultant, she’s passionate about challenging stereotypes about gender and disability. Let’s tell better stories and tell stories better.