The death of Robin Williams has been publicised massively over the last number of days, a shocking loss to the film industry, Williams was a beloved performer who had many fans, and so obviously there has been an outpouring of emotion since he passed away. I was a fan of Robin Williams as noted in my previous article in which I talked about his career and my memories of his work, and as a fan I have my favourites in terms of his library of films and television, the top of the heap being the 1987 comedy-drama, Good Morning, Vietnam, which I will be reviewing here, in both a tribute to the man himself, but also as a way to talk about one of my personal favourite comedy drama films and one I revisit every year or two and always enjoy.
Written by Mitch Markowitz who had previously written some episodes of M*A*S*H, and directed by Barry Levinson who went on to direct Rain Man and another Williams fronted film, Toys, as well as many other films. The plot follows the character of Adrian Cronauer (Williams), an unconventional DJ who is put on assignment in Vietnam, moving from Crete. His individual style of doing things rubs some people the wrong way but brings joy to many others, as he delivers rock and roll music and his modern brand of humour to the troops assigned to fight in the Vietnam war. Through politics and jealousy, Cronauer attempts to deliver his popular show to the airwaves as he fights and struggles against the reluctant people in charge with a backdrop of impending war and disintegrating good-will.
This was one of my first experiences of Robin Williams (the earliest being Mork & Mindy) and I recall loving this film as a child yet understanding it more and seeing new things as I grew up and understood more about the reasons things were happening. The comedy works well but doesn’t take away from the moving and often very emotional scenes that the film contains. It is something you just don’t see too often, a drama comedy war movie, doesn’t sound like it could possibly work but it does here. The wailing shout of “Good Morning, Vietnam” as Cronauer introduces himself and his show as it goes on the air is iconic and incredibly memorable and remains one of the screenshots of Robin Williams’ career to this day, a moment in film history that stands out.
The elements of the film that see Cronauer attempting to meet Vietnamese girls and so he begins to teach English classes in his spare time, and the scenes in which he discovers the dangers of war in front of his eyes instead of merely on sheets of paper in the offices in which he works, are strong and bring other elements to the film, important elements that move the film into areas other films wouldn’t attempt to go. The side cast, especially Bruno Kirby as Lt. Hauk and Forest Whitaker as Edward Garlick, do a tremendous job at playing on either the side of Cronauer or the opposing one, bringing some very funny moments in the process.
While there are some things about the film that prevent it from being truly brilliant, the tension for instance is never fully taken to boiling point like it could have been, bringing a super-serious smash to the teeth of the audience which, I feel, was needed, it is still a magnificent movie and one that I look at warmly and excitedly as I slip it into my DVD player.
A passionate Williams performance and a story that has not been repeated, making this film still fresh to look back on, Good Morning, Vietnam remains my favourite Robin movie to this day. I recommend seeing it if you haven’t or revisiting it again if you have, it’s worth remembering, truly.