Good Morning Vietnam

Director: Barry Levinson

1987

Robin Williams is very much the focal point of film playing “real-life U. S. Armed Forces Radio Service DJ Adrian Cronauer, who broadcasts his irreverent, wisecracking jokes […] and Motown music from his base in Saigon to the troops fighting the Vietnam War” (746, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die) and drives the entire film with his unique comedy. This really is a film that showcases Robin Williams’ talent and as Berry says “the real joy is in watching Williams deliver his manic monologues. many of them were ad-libbed, and director, Levinson made the wise decision to sit back and let the camera roll to capture each and every energetic outburst.” (746) That’s not to say that he is the only talent in Good Morning Vietnam – Forest Whitaker is actually pretty funny as the aide, with the rather unfortunate surname of Garlick, attached to keep an eye on Cronauer. Some of the higher ranking officers, Hauk and Dickerson in particular, become the stereotypical jobs worths with no sense of humor and a rigidity about them, especially when it comes to rules and regulations, and that in itself transforms them into comic characters forever inadvertently opening themselves up to ridicule. In the case of Hauk he has a completely unfounded faith in his own comedy, resulting in a particularly uncomfortable scene when he attempts to cover Cronauer’s show. The ginger twins in charge of censorship are just fab. There is something just inherently wrong about Dickerson abusing his power to send Cronauer into compromised territory just because he doesn’t like his personality or how he approaches things. I’m always really glad that he gets is comeuppance and is relocated to Guam.

I love Good Morning Vietnam. I have a fascination with the Vietnam War and have watched pretty much every American-made Vietnam War movie that’s out there, and Good Morning Vietnam is definitely one of my favourites. It’s definitely a different kettle of fish compared to the heavy nature of the majority of films concerning Vietnam with its light-hearted feel. There is a completely different quality to Good Morning Vietnam. And there is pretty much no fighting seen in the movie although there is still a Viet-Cong presence. It does feel a bit strange laughing out loud at a film set against the backdrop of a conflict as horrific as Vietnam and yet the purpose of Cronauer being there was to raise the morale of the troops slogging in out in a seemingly unending war in crap conditions in the jungle. There are moments when Cronauer becomes stifled by the censorship following the bombing of Jimmy Wah’s resulting in his suspension from the radio and a brief period of despondency.

Aside from the rather obvious shout of “Good Morning Vietnam” that became Cronauer’s opening trademark, it would be hard to mistake the war for any other period. There are enough shots of river vehicles and helicopters (made famous by that scene in Apocalypse Now [Francis Ford Coppola, 1979] … you all know which one I’m talking about!) that you automatically recognize the setting and place the conflict in its correct time in history. Saigon is suitably chaotic and vibrant. However Saigon is not always a safe haven with a series of bombings shattering the peaceful bubble the reserve troops are currently tenuously living in. The bombing of Jimmy Wah’s brings the reality of the conflict exploding back to the forefront of the audience’s mind, quite literally.

Robin WilliamsMusic is an aspect of the film that is equally as important as the comedy, packed to the brim with all the popular music of the era, songs which are now classics from bands like The Beach Boys. It’s an excellent soundtrack. Wonderful juxtaposition of Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World” over scenes of violence and despair of life in Vietnam.

Good Morning Vietnam is hilarious and I especially love the Vietnamese English class. There is a joy about their various personalities and attempts to learn English under the dubious tutelage of Williams’ Cronauer. Unlike the majority of the combat soldiers stationed in Vietnam, Cronauer fully immerses himself in the Vietnamese culture – he sees the Vietnamese as people rather than just some elusive enemy, and as we see the film from Cronauer’s perspective we too see them as individual people with their own unique personalities. As Joanna Berry says “this is one of the few American-made movies set during the Vietnam War that portrays the Vietnamese as real people.” (746) Cronauer develops a genuine friendship with Tuan after initially befriending him to get to his sister. It makes the  betrayal at the discovery that Tuan is actually Viet-Cong all the more cutting. However comedy is such a part of Robin Williams, it’s in his blood, that even after confronting Tuan he is still cracking jokes; it’s his coping mechanism. The softball game with his English class is the perfect way to end the movie. The ugliness of the Viet-Cong is pushed out of your mind by the images of US soldiers and Vietnamese sharing in something as simple as smacking fruit with a stick. It remind the audience that the Vietnamese are people too, a rarity in Vietnam centric films.

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