My Favorite Movies – Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

4 Jul

By Tanner Smith

I always liked “Good Morning, Vietnam” and called it one of my “ALMOST-favorite” movies, but now I can’t help but look at it in a whole new way that’s not only fascinating but worth analyzing. Thus, its placement here.

I mean, I don’t spend a whole lot of time analyzing the whole deal with the Vietnam conflict and the contradiction of love in the time of killing. That’s obvious, especially since this film was criticized for being “a comedy about the Vietnam War.” No, I’m talking about Robin Williams and his performance.

I’ll get to that. Anyway, it started when I binged a lot of old “Siskel & Ebert” reviews and came across their review of “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Ebert talked about what intrigued him more about Robin Williams’ performance as radio DJ Adrian Cronauer:

“He plays a guy who is all words. There is a wall between whoever is inside that character and his words. He uses the humor, the standup comedy, the one-liners–to hold people off. And at the end of the movie, curiously enough, we know a lot about the personalities of all of the supporting characters, but that central Robin Williams character is still a complete mystery. There is no glimpse into it. And that, to me, is brilliant, because it shows a certain kind of comic personality that I haven’t seen in the movies before, where the comedians are using the humor to say, ‘Don’t look inside. I’m going to keep you laughing the whole time.'”

Considering what we know about Robin Williams now (or what we concluded, anyway), it’s kind of eerie how spot-on that statement is. If only Ebert knew that was probably the kind of person Williams was in real life…

I’ve seen the movie about 6 or 7 times in my life, and that thought about Williams’ character never crossed my mind. I just saw it as Robin Williams at the top of his game in terms of hilarity–right up there with his Genie character. Listening to Ebert’s analysis about him inspired me to check it out again. So, I did…

Ebert’s right. We DON’T know that much about Adrian Cronauer (and if you know the true story about the real Adrian Cronauer, that’s probably for the best–but it’s a movie; let them take liberties). I think the closest we get is a scene in which Adrian is caught in a traffic jam with soldiers prepared to fight and he gives an impromptu “broadcast” right there on the spot, much to their appreciation. This is after he’s been suspended from the station and descended into a drunken stupor, and now he has this moment in which you could argue he realizes how important his job is at making the troops laugh. You can see a little hint of what he’s about in this scene. And that also leads to a revelation in the final act, in which one of his best friends turns out to be a VC operative and Adrian’s heart is just broken, which he makes clear in one last meeting with him. Aside from that, he just cracks jokes, doesn’t play too serious, and keeps his guard up. He’s still a mystery, and Williams’ approach is something worth thinking about.

I also realize we know less about Adrian than we do about Private Edward Garlick (wonderfully played by Forest Whitaker in one of his early film roles) who befriends Adrian, tries to keep up with him, and supports him–we know Garlick is goofy but by the book too, cracks wise and has a sense of humor but knows when to keep quiet and focus, and gains self-confidence through his friendship with Adrian, even though he too doesn’t know Adrian’s deal–but he does know what Adrian stands for with his radio persona. Garlick is the anchor for the audience–he’s a wonderful character played wonderfully by Forest Whitaker.

And again, I’ve seen this movie before, so I already knew I liked Williams and Whitaker’s performances–it’s just that now I have other reasons to like them.

The film is already highly recommended for being so funny in Adrian’s radio broadcasts and for being a biting commentary about the Vietnam War at the same time (and this came out just after “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket,” which were all about the hell that was Vietnam–this film has a different approach to it but is still pretty effective). And now…I guess I’m going to call it one of my favorite movies now!

My favorite scene: Adrian’s first broadcast starting with “Gooood moorrrrning, Vietnaaaam!” Robin Williams supposedly ad-libbed all of the broadcasts in this film, and it’s amazing to see him go to work here.

I thought Siskel and Ebert’s vintage reviews couldn’t influence me anymore, now that I’m older. I’m glad they can still surprise me after all this time.

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