Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 1 min.

Release Date: December 23rd, 1987 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Barry Levinson Actors: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Tung Thanh Tran, Chintara Sukapatana, Bruno Kirby, Robert Wuhl, J.T. Walsh, Noble Willingham

 


 

“I

‘m on your frequency!” It’s 1965 in Saigon when U.S. Air Force airman Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) arrives, greeted by Private First Class Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker), who will serve as an assistant to the newcomer. The current announcer on AFRS (Radio Saigon) is extremely boring – though informative – which prompts General Taylor (Noble Willingham) to recruit Cronauer to brighten the mood on the base, as the DJ’s former show in Crete was absolutely gut-busting. A very important meeting with the top brass proves daunting, as immediate supervisor Lieutenant Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) thinks of himself as quite the comedian, while Sergeant Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh) is unapologetically severe.

The next morning, however, Adrian instantly proves himself, opening with his signature phrase, “Good morning, Vietnam!” at 6:00 AM sharp, before transitioning into a loud, over-the-top spiel of jokes, impersonations, and rock ‘n’ roll music, which is definitely not part of normal programming. But with an increase to 125,000 men moving into the area (and that’s just the start), this outrageous, hysterical radio host is just what the troops need to heighten morale. Hauk isn’t exactly impressed with the performance, partly because it encroaches on his personal sense of being the resident humorist, but mostly because it’s offensive to his delicate impression of military propriety.

From his very first line of dialogue, Robin Williams plays Robin Williams, upping the volume, morphing his rubbery face into wild expressions, and engaging in rapid-fire deliveries full of sketchy gibes. While not wisecracking during every scene, his character attempts to woo a girl, Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana), by firstly befriending her brother Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran). But he’s at his best when he’s unfurling a never-ending slew of puns and sarcasm, especially when it’s aimed at authority figures and the increasing morbidity of the situation in southeast Asia. “You talk, I think, very much.”

Director Barry Levinson, working from a script by Mitch Markowitz, gives Williams the freedom to shape his role into the comic’s quintessential theatrical performance (up to this point in time), utilizing his typical accents and mannerisms and improvisations (it is, expectedly, a stretch from the real-life disc jockey and his career, on which this film is loosely based). But to give additional substance to a story that could have been designed as a mere series of vignettes (akin to Levinson’s “Diner”), subplots involving racism, cultural roadblocks, acts of terrorism, and the uncomfortable escalation of military forces edge their way into the picture. Employing a tried-and-true formula, irreverent humor plays better when set against a backdrop of realism (and politics and opposing perspectives of the American presence in Vietnam). And, of course, additional conflicts arise from the men in charge, who wish to shut down Adrian’s unconventional yet highly popular show.

Not wishing to ignore the increasing tensions around G.I. occupation and the onset of a full-blown war, the plot grows steadily darker, contrasting the chipper start but giving the production a depth that would see an astonishingly successful critical and financial run – and its star win a Golden Globe (and an Oscar nod). In one of the most artistic sequences, Louis Armstrong croons “What a Wonderful World” against a montage of death, destruction, and violence, segueing to heavier Vietcong incursions and weightier drama to sharply balance the laughs. Nevertheless, Williams is a one-man army, easily carrying the film with his larger-than-life personality and ceaseless energy; no level of graveness (which lends to a poignant conclusion) can dampen the master comedian’s effervescence and wit.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10