Tag Archives: Nancy Meyers

Private Benjamin (1980, Howard Zieff)

Quite a bit works in Private Benjamin, which makes all the creaky parts stick out more. Even though the film runs 109 minutes, a lot seems cut out. Characters just fade away, especially as the film rushes in the second half. But even lead Goldie Hawn just ends up staring in various montages–happy and sad ones–with her character development (the whole point of the movie) on pause.

Hawn’s nearly excellent–she would be with a better than director than Zieff–but still quite good as Benjamin. The first act sets Hawn up as a sympathetic, blissfully unaware Jewish-American princess caricature… though Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyers, and Harvey Miller’s script doesn’t really want to do too much commentary on that aspect. There’s one direct joke slash plot twist later, but the film’s initially just doing it to show Hawn’s screwed up life. Her father (Sam Wanamaker) is an indifferent, dismissive jerk. Mother Barbara Barrie is supportive, but in a limited way. Hawn’s love life is unfulfilling and gross. It’s depressing, not funny.

So when tragedy and contrivance land Hawn in the army, Benjamin all of a sudden finds lightness. Because as recruiting officer Harry Dean Stanton (in a gentle Harry Dean performance) puts it, it’s not like the ladies get the become killing machines in this man’s army. So it’s all sort of fun. Hawn slapsticking it through boot camp, for example. It has a number of solid laughs. It also builds up the supporting cast. There’s Eileen Brennan as Hawn’s commanding officer and nemesis. It should be a great role for Brennan. Instead, it’s a weak, often inexplicable one. The film goes out of its way to avoid giving Brennan her own material after a couple significant setups. It’s a waste of a performance.

Hawn has a pretty solid set of sidekicks in Mary Kay Place, Toni Kalem, Damita Jo Freeman, and Alston Ahern. P.J. Soles should be a sub-nemesis, instead she’s a pointless supporting player and it makes Soles grating. Hal Williams is fun as the drill sergeant.

In the second act, when Benjamin starts to be about Hawn’s character forcibly developing herself, the film hits its stride. Zieff either gets he shouldn’t dwell on it or he just doesn’t get it; his hands off approach leads to some of Hawn’s best acting in the film.

The second act also has Robert Webber as this wacky colonel with dumb nicknames (based off his own name) for everything. It’s silly and great, because Webber is straight-facing it all. Though the film ends up wasting him too.

Because eventually Hawn meets Armand Assante. And Assante is a rich, French gynecologist who speaks perfect English. He’s also Jewish. As an object of Hawn’s desire, Assante’s great. As her love interest, well, even with numerous montages, he wears out his welcome. He’s got a desperately thin part and ends up being the segue into the film rushing to bring back all its worst parts. And none of the good ones. It even scoffs at the idea of bringing back the good ones.

There’s also the weak music from Bill Conti. He plays up the military aspect, which is completely against what Sheldon Kahn’s editing is doing. The lack of rhythm drags down a lot of scenes. It’s like no one knows what anyone else wants to do with the picture.

Private Benjamin is solid situation comedy–sadly all Zieff can direct–with whiffs at greater ambitions. And Hawn’s a great lead.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Zieff; produced and written by Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, and Harvey Miller; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Sheldon Kahn; music by Bill Conti; production designers, Robert F. Boyle and Jeffrey Howard; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Pvt. Benjamin), Armand Assante (Henri Alan Tremont), Eileen Brennan (Capt. Lewis), Barbara Barrie (Harriet Benjamin), Sam Wanamaker (Teddy Benjamin), Robert Webber (Col. Thornbush), Hal Williams (Sgt. Ross), Toni Kalem (Pvt. Gianelli), Mary Kay Place (Pvt. Glass), Damita Jo Freeman (Pvt. Moe), Alston Ahern (Pvt. Soyer), P.J. Soles (Pvt. Winter), Harry Dean Stanton (1st Sgt. Ballard), Craig T. Nelson (Capt. Woodbridge), and Albert Brooks (Yale Goodman).


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Baby Boom (1987, Charles Shyer)

The first half of Baby Boom is this incredibly efficient story about career woman Diane Keaton deciding she wants to be a mom to a baby she inherits. Is inherit the right word? Probably not, but Keaton’s character can’t figure out how to change a diaper (though she can later milk a cow on the first try) so I’m in fine company. Boyfriend Harold Ramis–in a glorified cameo, which is kind of neat on its own–Harold Ramis being in a glorified cameo–isn’t too interested in settling down and there are so many work problems, what will Keaton do?

Baby Boom, written by director Shyers and Nancy Meyers, sort of implies it wants to answer hard questions about gender expectations and the workplace, but then–with only forty minutes left–Sam Shepard shows up with his snaggletooth and some floppy hair and the world changes. Somewhere in this mix–which has two montage sequences to get out of the boring narrative moments (and they’re actually the second and third montages, there’s one earlier)–the whole Baby part falls away and the Boom comes in.

See, Baby Boom isn’t about Keaton discovering how motherhood fulfills her or even about her relationship with the baby. Twins Kristina Kennedy and Michelle Kennedy do fine, though I really hope they used a doll when Keaton’s comically carrying her around like a suitcase. But the funniest stuff with the baby? It’s when she’s terrorizing Harold Ramis. In his glorified cameo.

James Spader, Sam Wanamaker and Pat Hingle are the business guys who just aren’t sure Keaton can hack it as a career woman. Spader’s a great sleaze but he gets no material here. Hingle’s part’s real thin too. Wanamaker ought to have more (as Keaton’s champion and mentor) but he too gets a weak part. Baby Boom is kind of lazy.

Bill Conti’s smooth jazz score gets annoying pretty fast, with no standouts except maybe the theme and even the end credits ruin it. William A. Fraker’s photography is fine until Keaton gets to Vermont; he does the New York City stuff fine, but Vermont is just too stagy. Shyer’s direction’s indistinct as well. His closeups are weak, the reshoots are obvious. Maybe the coolest part about it is how the second unit shots of New York City don’t do any of the standards. They do come with some annoying Conti music though.

Keaton’s good. The part’s a little too thin not to have a director pushing the film further. And, dang, if Sam Shepard isn’t charming.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Shyer; written by Nancy Meyers and Shyer; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Lynzee Klingman; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Jeffrey Howard; produced by Meyers; released by United Artists.

Starring Diane Keaton (J.C. Wiatt), Sam Shepard (Dr. Jeff Cooper), Harold Ramis (Steven Buchner), Kristina Kennedy & Michelle Kennedy (Elizabeth), Sam Wanamaker (Fritz Curtis), James Spader (Ken Arrenberg) and Pat Hingle (Hughes Larrabee).


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The Parent Trap (1998, Nancy Meyers)

Where to start with The Parent Trap. There’s the structure–Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer split their script into three distinct parts. Well, maybe even three and a half. There’s the opening where Lindsay Lohan goes to summer camp and meets her twin. Then there’s the part where the twins meet the opposite parents–I’m not explaining The Parent Trap, you should know these things–and then there’s the third part, where everyone gets together.

Only, towards the end, the movie all of a sudden becomes a romance between Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson (as the parents). Meyers deftly shifts from the kids–sorry, Lohan–being the protagonist–protagonists–to turning Quaid into the lead. Richardson has a lot more to do on her own for a bit, which seems to be part of how Meyers pulls it off. She introduces the idea of a floating protagonist label so it’s easier to assign it to Quaid.

But there’s also the technical marvel part of the film. The effects with Lohan are outstanding. The Parent Trap is a special effects extravaganza; Dean Cundey lights it all perfectly, Meyers directs it perfectly.

Of course, the film only works because of Lohan and her ability to create two entirely different characters who not only look alike, but also sound alike for much of the film. Meyers’s direction of Lohan is phenomenal.

The excellent supporting performances from Lisa Ann Walter, Simon Kunz and Elaine Hendrix are essential.

The Parent Trap is a fantastic film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nancy Meyers; screenplay by David Swift, Meyers and Charles Shyer, based on a novel by Erich Kästner; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Stephen A. Rotter; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; produced by Shyer; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Lindsay Lohan (Hallie Parker / Annie James), Dennis Quaid (Nick Parker), Natasha Richardson (Elizabeth James), Elaine Hendrix (Meredith Blake), Lisa Ann Walter (Chessy), Simon Kunz (Martin), Polly Holliday (Marva Kulp Sr.), Maggie Wheeler (Marva Kulp Jr.), Ronnie Stevens (Grandfather James) and Joanna Barnes (Vicki Blake).


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