Blind Spot 55: ‘Private Benjamin’ or I Like the Army Parts


This month for blind spot I thought it would be fun to tackle a comedy with a little bit of patriotism and 1980’s Private Benjamin seemed like the perfect choice. It’s a film I have heard about for years but never gotten around to seeing. It is written by Nancy Meyers who would go on to write and direct many films including The Parent Trap remake, The Holiday and more. A lot of people put her on the same level as Nora Ephron but I disagree. Her films have cute moments but nowhere near the wit and charm of Ephron’s writing.

In Private Benjamin Goldie Hawn plays a woman named Judy Benjamin who is tricked into joining the army when her husband dies on their wedding night. As a pampered heiress she isn’t used to the rigors of the army and the film rings a lot of comedy out of her being a fish out of water in this environment. Hawn does a good job of making the diva-like Judy likable and much like Cher in Clueless we are rooting for her despite her popular girl trappings.

private benjamin2

Unfortunately this time in the army is only a small part of the film. The last chunk of the Private Benjamin devotes itself to Judy getting engaged to a french man named Henri (Armand Assante). The movie lost all of its bite and wit in these rather tedious sections. I did not care about this relationship and was itching for her to get back to the army where she was growing and becoming a better person. It really bummed me out that the movie took such a turn.

I also was not a big fan of the rated R material in Private Benjamin. I feel like it almost never made anything funnier and came off as gratuitous in certain scenes. In addition, a plot thread with Judy’s officer attempting to rape her felt like it belonged in a different movie. It’s like the film couldn’t decide if it was going to be a grounded story of women in the army or a silly romantic comedy with runaway brides and slapstick antics. Either is fine but you can’t pull off both.

For whatever reason I have found a lot of the comedies from the 80s don’t transfer well. I’m sure there is a piece that could be written about this but Private Benjamin was at best a mixed bag. I enjoyed the boot camp scenes but pretty much everything else fell flat. Evidently a remake with Rebel Wilson is in the works and that might be interesting. Hopefully it will be more successful than the recent remake of Hawn’s other iconic 80s film Overboard. We’ll see.

4 out of 10


Hit Me with Your Best Shot: Death Becomes Her

You guys might not know but black comedies and I don’t mix very well. No matter the skill involved they nearly always seem more mean-spirited and ugly than funny. The worst movie I’ve ever seen is a black comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous- one of 2 films I have walked out of in my life (on a date no less!). So it is perhaps this reason that kept me away from the 1992 cult classic Death Becomes Her. However, this week it was selected by Nathaniel over at Film Experience as the Hit Me With Your Best Shot pick, and I decided to give it a shot.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Death Becomes Her is a ghost story combined with a critique on Hollywood, celebrity and female body obsession. It stars Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn with Isabella Rossellini adding revealing supporting work.

Meryl Streep is Madeline Ashton, an actress who is obsessed with her image and fading career. Goldie Hawn is Helen Sharp, her wantabe writer rival who is engaged to Bruce Willis’ Ernest Menviille, a plastic surgeon. All of these 3 actors are hamming it up big time from the beginning and there are a lot of good diva lines for Hawn and Streep.

Streep seems to be having a particularly good time playing someone so deliciously narcissistic and vapid. You almost have the feeling she’s known many such women that she is basing the character off of. Madeline ends up stealing Ernest from Helen and the two women play cat and mouse with each other until spoiler alert they both die but only after having drunk an elixir of youth given to them by Rossellini.

It is after the death where we get the body-bending special effects that won an Oscar for the film in 1992. These effects do look a little dated but honestly that is part of its charm- sort of like watching an old movie from the 30s with hokey special effects.

I’m trying to put a finger on why this black comedy worked for me and films like Drop Dead Gorgeous don’t. It could just be Meryl Streep is that good and it could be some genuinely funny writing by Martin Donovan and David Koepp. I’m not sure. Humor is an odd thing in that regard. Sometimes you can’t explain why certain things make you laugh and others don’t.

It’s funny because of all the useless remakes we have gotten over the years (I’m talking to you Ghostbusters and Ben Hur…) Death Becomes Her is screaming for a remake. I kept thinking of all the stuff you could do with reality tv and our image conscious society now that you didn’t have back in 1992. There is so much more the script could poke fun at and of course the special effects could be improved upon.

I should mention that Bruce Willis is very funny in a non-John McClane role we rarely see. He’s been such a lazy actor of late that it was fun to see him trying.

With all the nonsense, the film does have something to say about life and what really makes someone last forever, and I thought that was nice. But when I am picking a best shot I went with the scene that made me laugh the hardest. Ernest has supposedly taken the eternal serum and Streep’s Madeline looks at him and says ‘My God he still looks like Hell…’ That made me laugh so that’s my shot.

death becomes her best shotThis film does have more nudity than I was expecting just to warn my more conservative readers.