Friday, 20 November 2009
I've been going through a Goldie Hawn phase lately, yet I'm unable to recall anymore what exactly it was that triggered it. Anyhow, Hawn is one of those actresses - of which there are few - who are blessed with an inborn ability to make me laugh. And probably not just me. At the least, they put a smile on my face the minute they appear on screen. Diane Keaton is another example. Anyhow, as usual, when I'm into something - or someone - I'm into it 110% and so, going through this current preoccupation with Hawn made me want to rewatch all of her films I could get my hands my on. They included, The Cactus Flower (USA 1969) - her first feature film, for which she received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress - The Sugarland Express (USA 1974), Shampoo (USA 1975), Death Becomes Her (USA 1994), Everyone Says I Love You (USA 1996), The Banger Sisters (USA 2002) and the three I want to discuss in a little more detail, Private Benjamin (USA 1980), Overboard (USA 1987), and Bird On A Wire (USA 1990).
Private Benjamin was the only one of all her films which I had never seen before, and I must say, that while it is not a film which may leave much of a mark on film history, for a number of reasons it is nevertheless remarkable, one of them is that I somehow expected a totally different film - a romp, probably. In any case, some sort of unabashed, unadulterated comedy - when in fact Private Benjamin for all its, or rather: her, hilarity, has quite a few serious undertones. As a result, it really caught me by surprise as it was comedy that I expected when actually, it is in equal parts a serious - Women's Lib - drama. Hence, like several films from the same period discussed elsewhere in this blog, Private Benjamin also is very much a time capsule,a result of the times it was made in and I would argue that, with its ending in which Hawn deserts the man she thought was going to be her destiny and walks off into the forest alone, yet clearly not unhappy, this film could probably not be made today with its far more traditional and, in many ways, more conservative climate. In most major US films these days, a woman is only allowed to find happiness at the side of a man, usually with an assortment of children by her and her newly found husband's side. This trend already started in the early 1980s and was paralleled by Ronald Reagan's rise to power. And so, at the end of both Overboard and Bird On A Wire - both made roughly a decade after Private Benjamin - instead of finding happiness all on her own, in both films Hawn is safely reunited with her love interest (Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell respectively), and this being the 1980s, with a lot of money to boot, and in Overboard even with a host of children to bless the happy reunion.
Nevertheless, both films do have some redeeming features. For startes, there is Goldie Hawn herself, whose presence and innate comic quality add a much needed touch of irony which elevate both films and prevent them from being taken too seriously - which they shouldn't. They're fairytales, in fact. Moreover, Overboard has a positively promising start, in which both Hawn - aided by the incomparable Roddy Macdowall - are delivering an act of camp so outrageous, so hilarious, apt to even make the early Bette Milder blush. Unfortunately, for the better part of the second half, Overboard increasingly turns into a rather sugarcoated family melodrama with little or no comic relief. Bird On A Wire, on the other hand, is a spoof on films like His Girl Friday (USA 1939), The Awful Truth (USA 1939) or What's Up Doc (USA 1972) - to name just a few - in which a man and a woman decide that they're incompatible and subsequently the woman takes up with a solid and reliable new partner, only to realise that while the new partner may have all the hallmarks of an ideal husband, he's also incredibly boring. I had seen Bird On A Wire once before shortly after its release while crossing the Atlantic and I must admit, that my memories of it were not good. But then again, I don't think I have any good memories of any film that I watched on a plane which is why I've long stopped watching films while being on one: the small screen, plus the hubbubb around you is bound to spoil any film experience, no matter how good the film may be. Anyhow, seeing Bird On A Wire the second time round I'm not ashamed to say that even though it is a pretty predictable Hollywood genre piece, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed it - perhaps, it's because I was in dire need of some escapist fare, perhaps owing to the negative memories I had of it my expectations were so low that it was easy for the film to get past that.
And while watching Bird On A Wire, I realised that somewhere along the line there was a shift in Hawn's on screen persona as by the 1980s she had shed her girl-next-door image of films like The Cactus Flower, Sugarland Express or even Shampoo, and became the wealthy trophy wife or career woman. While the changing political climate may have required her to adapt her on screen persona as there started to be a bigger demand for wealthy trophy wives than girls-next-door, it nonetheless is testimony to Hawn's talent as an actress that she is equally credible - and at home - in both characters.
I just wish, we'd see more of her these days!