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. The film is 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, Benjamin 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 tells her that the service is glamorous, comparing it to a spa vacation. She has a rude awakening upon arriving at Basic Training. Judy wants to quit almost immediately, and is astonished to learn that she cannot, contrary to the assertions of her recruiting sergeant.
Army regulations and the continuing disapproval of both Captain Doreen Lewis (Eileen Brennan) and SFC L. C. Ross (Hal Williams), her drill sergeant, frustrate her, but when Judy’s parents “Teddy” (Sam Wanamaker) and Harriet (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 wargames exercise where her squad exposes an affair between a member of her training platoon and an Officer from another Company, and take the leaders of both sides hostage. Upon completion of basic training, Judy meets Henri Tremont (Armand Assante), a French doctor, who is in Biloxi for a medical conference. They separate after a brief romance; Henri returns to Paris, and Judy enters training for the Thornbirds, an elite paratrooper unit, after basic training.
She quickly finds that she was chosen for paratrooper training because the unit’s commander finds her attractive; he attempts to sexually assault her. When she refuses to comply, he attempts to have her transferred as far away from Biloxi as soon as possible. Rather than accept what she sees as an undesirable post in Greenland or Guam, she negotiates an assignment to SHAPE 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 either her Army career or love.
After she chooses Henri and gets engaged, Judy discovers Henri’s controlling side. He tries to “remake” her, and also insists she sign a prenuptial agreement (in French) to protect his family home held for centuries. Then, when she finds out Henri is still in love with his ex-girlfriend Clare, and has cheated on her with their maid, she realizes that she is capable of doing whatever she wants, and that she does not need Henri in her life. In the final scene, just as Judy is about to get married again, she walks out on Henri at the altar to go and live her own life.
- Goldie Hawn as 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
Private Benjamin was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Goldie Hawn), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Eileen Brennan), and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (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. It starred Lorna Patterson, Eileen Brennan, Hal Williams, Lisa Raggio, Wendie Jo Sperber and Joel Brooks. Brennan and Williams reprised their roles, those of Captain Doreen Lewis and Sergeant L. C. Ross respectively, from the film for the television series.
In March 2010, Anna Faris was originally cast to portray Judy Benjamin in a remake of Private Benjamin from New Line Cinema, but in May 2014, it was confirmed that Rebel Wilson would portray Benjamin in the remake. Amy Talkington was in talks to write the script, which was to update both the story and the screenplay on which Harvey Miller, Nancy Meyers, and Charles Shyer had initially written in collaboration, and Mark Gordon was set to produce.
The new take Talkington was in talks to adapt would re-set Miller’s, Meyers’s, and Shyer’s story in contemporary times, with modern wars as the backdrop. Insiders said that the studio wanted neither to poke fun at the people in the service nor take political potshots, but instead sought to focus on the empowerment elements and to build on the fish-out-of-water comedy. But as of the beginning of August 2018, no new word was available on the project.