Remaking Private Benjamin is mostly a fine idea. The original was a hit, and to a degree so was the TV series it spun off, but it hasn’t been too culturally beloved in the past 20 years to warrant any outcries. And the premise is so simple — woman ill-suited for the military goes through hell at boot camp — that it’s easily done as a mostly in name only sort of redo. And that’s pretty much what New Line Cinema appears to be planning with the latest attempt at revisiting the 1980 comedy.
According to The Tracking Board, horizontal running champion Rebel Wilson is now set to star in the role previously filled by Goldie Hawn. This time she’s a redneck who joins the Marines in order to escape “a tough situation,” as Variety adds. In Hawn’s version, she was tricked into joining after the death of her new husband and expected something more posh. Seriously, I saw it a bunch as a kid but can’t recall the exact details of what she was thinking. All the more reason it’s okay for a remake.
Back then, women were not new to the U.S. military but they were rare, and in the ’70s the ranks were increasing. Plus it was a time of women’s liberation, so female cadets fit well with the gender-neutralizing era of feminist comedies and (the inverse) movies making fun of men as homemakers and stay at home fathers. How does the situation become relevant today? Well, in the last few years more jobs in the armed forces have opened up to women. And in 2013, an order was signed that allowed women the same combat opportunities as men. They might even get to become Navy SEALs as early as 2016.
As for women Marines, they’ve been around for almost a century, and as part of the regular Corp since the mid-70s. And yet it wasn’t until last fall that three women became the first to pass the Marine Corp. infantry training course. They’re expected to integrate into combat roles in the next couple years.
Such sudden relevance might be why New Line is pushing ahead on this remake now. Anna Faris was attached to a Private Benjamin redo back in 2010, and it’s unclear just how much is changed with the project since that attempt (The Tracking Board do report that the producers are going in an “entirely new direction” with the lead role at least). There are new writers aboard, namely Dan Fybel and Rich Rinaldi, both of TV’s Bob’s Burgers.
We’re still as concerned as we were last time that military comedies are a less funny idea while the U.S. is involved in deadly wars than in the peacetime of 1980, so hopefully there’s a way of getting around that. Or will this be a good balance of silly and serious? They’ll need to find a great director now to achieve that. And they’ll also need to find an exceptional actress to fill Eileen Brennan’s shoes. Both she and Hawn were nominated for Oscars for their performances (as was the screenplay), but Brennan deserved to win it a whole lot more.