Private Benjamin (1980)

8.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 8/10

Interesting look at changing times for women and the military, smart script and cast

A period of the time that sometimes feels dated

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Private Benjamin

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Genre(s):  Comedy

Release Date(s):  October 10, 1980

MPAA Rating:  R


Do these come in any color but green?

Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) hopes for her childhood dream to be a wife and mother.  Despite a failed marriage, Judy thinks she’s found happiness with her new husband Yale Goodman (Albert Brooks) until tragedy strikes on her wedding night.  Judy is trying to find herself and is convinced to enlist in the military.  Facing off against her hardnosed captain Doreen Lewis (Eileen Brennan), Judy is starting to wonder if she made a big mistake.

Directed by Howard Zieff, Private Benjamin was a comedy produced by and starring Goldie Hawn.  The movie was well received and nominated for Oscars for Best Actress (Hawn), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Brennan), and Best Original Screen Play.


I’m sure your help is completely professional…

I can remember seeing Private Benjamin as a kid (and watching the TV show that it spawned), but rewatching the movie, I found I remembered little of it (especially the numerous sex jokes).  The movie is good, but it also seems to be a bit of a product of the time.

Living in a time where the military is very active and women have been actively involved for years, it is hard to believe a time where someone (even as ditzy as Benjamin) would not realize or research what she was getting into.  The movie is quite smartly written and has a number of strong comedic moments without really being an insult to the military (which would have been easy to do with films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter being critical after Vietnam).

I also admire the movie for not following the typical path of a movie in this format.  In today’s comedy, the movie would end with Benjamin taking charge and stopping a revolution or something through wacky interventions.  Instead, the movie does maintain following her development of her own personality and trying defining herself through something other than marriage and money.


Go get ’em, Benjamin!

Hawn is good in the role.  She has her patented smile and charm, but I kind of believe her when she does harden up a bit by the end of the film.  Eileen Brennan is great as her commanding officer who is right in a lot of ways but takes the wrong approach to Benjamin.  The movie also features roles by Albert Brooks, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Webber, Hal Williams, Armand Assante, Mary Kay Place, P.J. Soles, and Craig T. Nelson.

Private Benjamin is now often considered one of the great comedies of the ’80s.  It spawned a TV series starring Lorna Patterson in the Private Benjamin role and with Eileen Brennan and Hal Williams reprising their roles.  The series ran from April 1981 to January 1983 and also was an award winner for Brennan.  There has been talk of a remake of Private Benjamin, and though some of the concepts of women’s changing roles in society and the military would be interesting to revisit, I think they would make Benjamin too obnoxiously stupid to tolerate…let’s leave Hawn’s flighty Benjamin alone.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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