“Private Benjamin is one of the few current movies with an ad that’s a real come-on. Goldie Hawn looking bedraggled in an Army helmet, with her lower lip pulled down in the pout of a sad sack who feels abused. The ad is also an accuate representation of the movie’s appeal. Goldie Hawn plays a spoiled honey bunch—Judy Benjamin, a rich blond Jewish girl from Philadelphia who has been wasting her intelligence…. It used to be said that the Army would make a man out of you, and in early movies mollycoddled young prigs were whipped into shape and became rugged he-men, leaders, heroes. This hasn’t been said much lately, but it’s back now in feminist drag. The Army makes a real woman out of bratty Judy Benjamin. The he-men may have got medals; Judy has her first orgasms.
“…. [D]espite the film’s feminist veneer, Judy the soldier gets what she wants by manipulation and the shrewd use of sexual blackmail—which we’re meant to find adorable. Yet for almost two-thirds of its length the picture is moderately amusing….
“Zieff appears to be a good director for Goldie Hawn, because almost everything she does here has an infectious, frothy charm. Even if this material was patched together as a showcase for her (she’s the executive producer), she had to spin her character out of herself, because it’s not in the writing. She gets laughs out of ancient routines about a tenderfoot going through the rigors of basic training; when she runs, she holds her hands out limply in front of her chest, like a bunny rabbit holding up two paws. And she knows enough to recede into the Army group (which includes Toni Kalem, Mary Kay Place, and P. J. Soles) during a spontaneous celebration dance after her side has won the war games…. There isn’t anything Goldie Hawn can do, though, to redeem dumb service-comedy pranks, like Judy putting blue dye in the shower head of the recruits’ captain …
“This picture might have been repugnant with a more militant-looking star. But Goldie Hawn has her smudged, infant sweetness and her little baby belly. When she’s fouling up, she’s a darling dogface, and when she’s standing proud and tall in her elite paratroop-corps uniform, she’s still Goldie Hawn of the blue goo-goo eyes and the big, fizzy smile and the limp, straggly curls that always make her look as if she’s been left out in the rain. She finds new, much softer variations of the squeally mannerisms she perfected on the “Laugh-In” shows, and she has a light tone with lines like her unhappy comment to the groom (soon to be a corpse) when he grabs her in the bathroom, “Yale, it’s not real romantic to make love in a sink.” (Her voice expresses weary incredulity.) Her likableness sustains the picture until the plot packs her off to Europe in pursuit of a real dish—a French-Jewish gynecologist, whom Armand Assante plays with lowered lids and a heavy accent (like an impersonator’s caricature of Charles Boyer) …. When we realize that the prince is a thickheaded chauvinist who will turn Judy into a subservient wife, as useless and neurotic as her mindless mother, the picture seems to be stuck in a revolving door. Judy’s having to get liberated all over again is bizarre, bizarre. (For purposes of the plot, she’s made out to be a very slow learner.) Yet even here, when at the very last minute Judy pulls out of her wedding ceremony, Goldie Hawn gets a semi-laugh by the way she inflects “Not so fast” (instead of “I will”). Goldie Hawn demonstrates what an accomplished comedienne she is—she carries Private Benjamin on her back. She’s caught in one particularly dumb gambit, though: in order to please the Frenchman, Judy wears her hair Mercurchrome red, in a Cleopatra cut. The material is so thin—it’s just Daffy Duck-TV sitcom—that Goldie Hawn can’t afford a disfiguring hairdo. For feminism this phony, she needs every physical asset she can muster and all her honey-bunch wiles.”
“At the end, Judy the princess who became the sad sack who became the fine soldier is the fairy princess turning down the castle … Is it really back to the army for Judy Benjamin? Is male domination so inevitable that she can escape it only by accepting military authoritarianism? This movie … is cuckoo.”
The New Yorker, November 10, 1980
Taking It All In, pp. 92-95