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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Private Benjamin, a 1980 award winner and box office bonanza for Goldie Hawn, is a salute to the young women who were just beginning to assert themselves in the early years of what was then known as "women's lib." Although it's a comedy through and through -- with lots of laughs, broad send-ups of chauvinistic men, fairy-tale moments that cling to and then shatter stereotypes -- it was as timely as it was silly. Its R rating is a result of numerous sexual scenes, which include partial nudity, foreplay, implied oral sex, and sexual intercourse shot from the participants' shoulders up. Most of these scenes are intended as humor. One comic attempted sexual assault encounter feels particularly outdated and tasteless. Salty language ("goddamn," "hell," "ass", "s--t") and sexual chatter about orgasms and prior sexual experience is heard occasionally. Some Jewish stereotyping includes a prototypical lavish Jewish wedding, the Jewish princess, a Jewish doctor, and a generally affluent culture. One scene finds an inebriated army officer trying to inspect her troops; some casual drinking occurs as well. A campfire scene shows a group of female soldiers sharing a marijuana cigarette and getting stoned. Lots of characters smoke.
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What's the story?
Adorable airhead Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn, Oscar-nominated for her performance) is devastated when she's widowed on her wedding night in PRIVATE BENJAMIN. Sheltered and pampered by her loving Jewish family, Judy's whole reason for being has died along with her bridegroom. Despairing and intrigued by an ad for military service, Judy checks out a local army office where a charming but shameless recruiter promises her the world. Judy is just naive and self-pitying enough to believe him. She enlists and suddenly finds herself in basic training where she's clueless, helpless, and the immediate target of the diabolical Captain Doreen Lewis (Eileen Brennan, also nominated for an Academy Award). Fun and games ensue as Judy learns a lot about the army, her family, and, most of all, herself. And that's just the beginning. As the now smart, resourceful Private Benjamin defeats her inner nitwit on the "battlefield of life," opportunities abound, insightful decisions are made, and an authentic Judy emerges.
Is it any good?
It's amazing how funny this movie is after so many years and so many cultural shifts. But funny it is. Spending time with Goldie Hawn and company is a delight despite the men in the story, almost all of whom are despicable and/or condescending brutes; despite a 1980s moral climate that found humor in a recruit's near-rape by a superior officer; despite some very stereotypical Jewish comedy; and, most significantly, despite an old-news story about a women finding herself. Even when it was released, Private Benjamin had a problematic last third, when it felt as though the first movie ended abruptly and a new story began. All is forgiven, however, when Judy begins a systematic odyssey of one-upsmanship and that fragile, weepy girl becomes nothing less than an iron butterfly. Language and sexual situations make it iffy for most kids, but mature tweens and teens will enjoy this classic film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about sexual harassment in the military. Do you think filmmakers today would create a "comic" attempted rape scene like the one in Private Benjamin? By today's standards, why might this scene be considered offensive?
A fish-out-of-water tale is always popular. Find out what the term means. Why do you think these stories are so appealing to audiences?
How have women's expectations for themselves changed since 1980, when this movie was made? In what ways have they stayed the same?
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