|Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
Starring: Robin Williams, Forest Whittaker
Director: Barry Levinson
The sheer fact that this movie almost didn’t get made due to heavy studio criticism is more than enough reason as to why “Good Morning, Vietnam” should be seen by everybody at least once before they die. The film, which stars Robin Williams in his first semi-serious role, isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but its ability to push through the solemnity of the war effort with heavy doses of humor is what makes the film such a unique experience. And while other Vietnam features released during the same time – like “Platoon” (1986) and “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) – presented more straightforward political commentary on the war, “Good Morning, Vietnam” teaches you the most while saying the least.
Williams stars as Adrian Cronauer, a radio DJ stationed in Saigon, Vietnam in 1965. Brought in to help boost troop morale via his morning program on the AFN (Armed Forces Network), Cronauer’s material includes a mix of comic shtick and a playlist composed mostly of (gasp) rock ‘n’ roll music; Cronauer was actually the first military DJ to have ever done this. The higher ranking officers in charge of the station don’t agree with hi programming choices, but as bags of fan mail arrive by the day, Cronauer’s popularity builds to the point where he’s become a military icon. When he’s not entertaining the troops or teaching English to native foreigners, however, Cronauer falls for a beautiful Vietnamese girl and consequently forms a friendship with her younger brother. But as he soon discovers, the war on terror doesn’t stop at the edge of the jungle.
Of all the films that Robin Williams has appeared in, this is by far one of his best performances, if not the best. His knack for improvisational comedy is the saving grace of this film, and while he didn’t win the Oscar for Best Actor that year, his nomination was certainly well-deserved. The rest of the supporting cast have such small roles in the film that they’re hardly worth mentioning, save for a very young Forest Whitaker as Cronauer’s right-hand man, Pfc. Edward Garlick. This isn’t because the rest of the actors do such a horrible job with their respective parts, but rather because Williams overshadows them with a tour-de-force performance.
Unfortunately, the on-air antics of Cronauer’s radio personalities just aren’t enough to classify the film as a masterpiece. It has plenty of soft spots throughout - almost all of which are related to the subplot involving Cronauer’s relationship to the Vietnamese villagers - and while he’s off wooing the girl and befriending the enemy, the audience is left waiting for him to return to the radio station. Is that asking too much? And if so, when does a comedy about the Vietnam War have to stop being funny and start being politically correct? The answer should be never.
The Special Edition release of “Good Morning, Vietnam” isn’t something to get all excited about, but it’s a thousand times better than the original version, which featured absolutely nothing. Headlining the bonus material is a fairly interesting, six-part production diary on the making of the film, as well as undisturbed cuts of Williams (“Raw Monologues”) improvising material for the radio sequences. Also included on the single-disc release are two theatrical trailers, and while that still doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s a decent offering for the average fan.