In 1980, Hollywood depicted a woman in military training as a comedy, but by 1997 that same subject is no laughing matter. A great deal has changed between the humorous basic training of Private Benjamin and the grueling, torturous Navy SEAL training detailed in G.I. Jane. Women in the military (onscreen and off) are demanding more from an institution which is famously resistant to change.
G.I. Jane couldn't be more timely. The film's opening is concurrent with female cadets entering the formerly all-male Citadel and Virginia Military Institute (based on rulings from the Supreme Court, now with two women justices). It also comes close on the heels of a series of military sex scandals which bring to light the uncertain relations between men and women in a co-ed fighting force.
This goes a long way to explain why G.I. Jane, directed by Ridley Scott (Thelma and Louise) and starring Demi Moore as a grimly determined and fiercely ambitious Naval officer, is so dogged, humorless and simplistic.
In the fictional scenario by Danielle Alexandra, Lt. Jordan O'Neil, tired of watching her boyfriend leapfrog past her in rank because of combat experience in the Gulf War, takes on the challenge of being the first woman Navy SEAL trainee.
Few expect her to succeed, including a savvy senator (Anne Bancroft) -- who chooses O'Neil because she is the most attractive candidate -- and the Navy SEAL command master chief (Viggo Mortensen).
While cloaking itself in anti-feminist rhetoric, G.I. Jane manages to loudly trumpet the position that women can succeed in the military's elite corps and, by extension, in combat.
Scott directs G.I. Jane as if it were a recruitment video for an ultra-extreme bloodsport, gleefully showcasing the Navy SEALs as the ultimate warriors.
But the film belongs fully to the bulked-up and stubbornly tenacious Demi Moore.
During a violent, no-holds-barred fistfight with Mortensen, Moore incongruously but convincingly screams, "Suck my dick!" Her macho female action figure may be lacking this appendage, but then again, G.I. Joe doesn't have one either.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.