(In French, On TV, July 2017) I was originally tempted to launch this review by comparing Private Benjamin to the 1981 Bill Murray comedy Stripes, but it’s a comparison that only goes so far: While both movies follow a similar structure in transforming their protagonist from a civilian zero to a military hero, they do look at the same subject from very different perspectives. While Stripes is more of a goofy slob-power fantasy, Private Benjamin is largely about the self-empowerment of a young woman cast adrift. And that carries an entirely different tone, much like the fact of this being a female-led film does lend it a distinctive comic flavour. It does work … but much of the impact of the comedy seems blunted by the intention to have it mean something more. Behind the laughs, and to the conclusion of the movie, Private Benjamin is about tough choices that may or may not lend themselves to giggly laughs. As such, there’s a tension at the heart of the film between Goldie Hawn’s more overtly comic moments (“the army with the condos and the private rooms!”) and its more serious intention of resisting male domination. (But then again this is a movie about a woman whose husband dies on top of her on their wedding night.) It works, but it doesn’t quite click. Some of the material in the beginning is audacious; some of the material in the middle is funny; some of the material at the end is depressing. Hawn herself is great, and she’s supported by a good cast that has an early appearance by Armand Assante. This is one of the rare cases when a remake may be interesting—Most of the themes remain contemporary, and I’m not sure that nearly forty years have changed much in the way women are integrated in US military forces.
(On Cable TV, June 2016) I remember seeing bits and pieces of Death Becomes Her before (especially the special effects work) but not the entire thing and having watched it, I can only conclude that Hollywood’s become far more risk-averse in the past twenty-five years because … wow, this is a weird film. It blends comedy with a fair bit of understated horror, hops viewpoints between protagonists, plays with supernatural tropes and seems delighted in deglamorizing its stars. Seeing Bruce Willis play a downtrodden surgeon is remarkable not only because he’s relatively animated in the role, but because it’s the kind of self-deprecating role he’d never play any more. Goldie Hawn (occasionally in a fat suit) and Meryl Streep (gamely going to lowbrow physical comedy) also play against persona, carefully directed by Robert Zemeckis with the kind of silliness that seems absent from the last two decades of his work. What’s definitely within his filmography is the film’s use of special effects for storytelling purpose: While dated, the work still carries a certain charge even today, and it’s not a surprise to find out that it won the Special Effects Oscar back in 1993. Beyond effects, Death Becomes Her does have a bit of beauty/age thematic depth to it, although I probably would feel better about a clash between aging actresses had the script been better at portraying the female gaze: At times, the “ha-ha, they’re so vain!” gags can feel mean-spirited and missing the point of the theme. But it’s definitely a weird film, also so much so that it’s to be discovered and savoured. It takes chances, occasionally missteps and often dares to indulge in risk-taking humour. The result may not be entirely successful, but it’s gleefully audacious and remains its own creation, without giving the impression of being photocopied from the Hollywood mainstream. Worth a look, if only as a reminder of the kind of stuff that Hollywood won’t dare touch these days at it chases predictable results.
(On VHS, June 2001) Midwest yokels come to New York City and are quickly out of their depth! How funnier can it be? A lot funnier, easily. Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin reprise their usual screen personae, adding nothing and screaming a lot with scarcely any indication of how good they can be in other types of roles. John Cleese is a hoot as usual. The various plot points are pretty much predictable in advance, and aren’t all that skilfully executed either. For a film about New York, there isn’t a whole lot of scenery. There have been worse films, there have been better films, so there isn’t any cause for concern if ever you pass by The Out-Of-Towners and don’t pick it up.
(Second viewing, in French, on Cable TV, December 2018) Watching The Out-Of-Towners remake right after the 1969 original only underscores how much more slap-sticky is the remake. Gone are the more serious undertones and barely-repressed desperation of the original. Instead, we get Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn hamming it up as much as they can stand. The result actually is reliably funny, although unsubstantial to a point where I didn’t even realize I had seen the film seventeen years ago. One good point in favour of the remake: the much more active role given to the female lead — it sure helps that Hawn can be reliably funny on a dime. There’s a surprising cameo appearance from pre-America’s-Mayor, pre-Crazy-Pundit Rudy Giuliani.