Thursday, November 04, 2010

Bitesize Best Actress Oscar Profiles: Goldie Hawn

Goldie Hawn in "Private Benjamin"
Lost the 1980 Best Actress Oscar to Sissy Spacek in "Coal Miner's Daughter"

Grade: *

Despite winning an Oscar for Cactus Flower in 1969, I always think of Goldie Hawn as an Actress that belongs to the Nineties. Perhaps that's just my age speaking, but I'm yet to be truly moved by her before she met Steve Martin in a pair of hot red heels and moved into his house uninvited. Goldie Hawn's primary attribute is her sex appeal, and somehow, against all odds, "Private Benjamin" is a film that all but sucks this from her, especially in its second half. Maybe not that surprising, given that the film is about a middle-class widow getting a wake-up call from enlisting in the army, but certainly not encouraging for this reliably glamourous actress.

One of the more rewarding elements of Hawn's canny comedic ability is in building up a sense of self-protection, largely through her own status as a blonde bombshell. There's an inoffensive, naive hint of arrogance in the way that she struts around, which helps to facilitate the impact of humour in her thin bursts of disapproval at not being taken seriously. Her first scene with the intimidating Cpt. Lewis, in which she wears a black dressing gown to roll call and proceeds to criticise the hygeine of her accomodation, highlights what she can do when given a real comedic platform. And even if this scene is part of the film's early stab at novelty, she does at least give it some much needed vibrancy and encourage us to follow Judy that little bit further.

The scene which marks a shift in the narrative, in which Judy switches from being thoroughly disgusted by her surroundings to defiant of her old life and committed to the army, reads as such an abrupt, misjudged way of dealing with the arc of the character, and Hawn doesn't really give any sense that Judy is fearful of her old life enough to spurn it. She ends up sitting back and allowing the film to chronicle its old-fashioned "journey" of the woman from discontent to fulfillment, without crafting anything for herself within that journey. She feels lost when required to question her boyfriend about his fidelity, clueless as to whether this woman is being driven to become neurotic, and in the end settles to ease the film's finale a little with a pang of resignation. Her version of emotional camouflage?

Hawn feels constricted in the role, mistaking indifference for duality, and she's muted when more hysteria is called for (trust me, I don't say that very often!) If "Private Benjamin" had gone as first indicated and become a permanent battle of oneupmanship between Judy and Lewis, then Hawn would feel much more comfortable in the role. The downtrodden later aspects of Judy don't sit well with her, and I don't think that she ever really makes Judy that worthy of support. A result that's as much about the platitudinous irks that come with the character as it is about Hawn's own failings as an actress, but if this is awards-level acting, colour me unimpressed.

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