Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Good Morning, Vietnam
Directed by Barry Levinson
Written by Mitch Markowitz
(number 371)

Young Robin Williams and baby Forest Whitaker star in this comedy about the Vietnam war. Adrian Cronauer is inported from Crete to Saigon to add some comedy to the morning radio show. He of course, pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable comedy. He is sweet, making friends with Vietnamese locals and teaches them English.

I wanted to watch this movie this week after the horrible news of Robin Williams’s death. I also have Aladdin on the list and probably Good Will Hunting so those might come up soon too. It seemed a fitting tribute to watch one of his films which I had never really sat down and watched, and one which made him so famous and which was also on my 500 list.

With my heightened awareness of the treatment of homosexuals in movies, I’m not sure how to feel about Cu Ba Nguyen playing Jimmy Wah. The character is pretty much out, asking the soldiers for photos of naked actors, asking Cronauer for photos of the soldier’s ankles in their leather boots. He’s very camp, he’s the owner of the bar which all the GIs go to. During a race fight he shouts out “Everybody saying ‘gook’ but it’s all right!” He felt like a caricature for sure, but one who knew that and was often sending himself up because he knew that’s how he’d get by with all these gun toting Americans around.

Adrian, when he’s taken off the air is clearly shown to be suffering depression and it all felt a bit… a bit close to what I imagine may have been happening in Robin Williams’ life. There’s a scene where his car ends up between some trucks of young soldiers who all admire him, and it perks him right up – but there’s a desperation in his performance, he’s trying so hard to make them laugh. He ends by asking all of them what their names are, repeating in between jokes ‘take care of yourselves, be careful’ and as they drive off he promises to remember them. His sad expression is faded out on, and the next scene of him on the air segues into violence and nastiness over the soundtrack ‘what a wonderful world’. Ouch. Ouch, man.

It’s hard not to see this performance as a personal one, given the circumstances, but then maybe one of the things that made Williams such a great performer is his ability to inject his own personality, his own life into the characters.

Does it make me love the people? Yes, the leads, the minor characters who weren’t evil and I think they did a lot to humanise the Vietnamese as well. Showing them not as aliens or the enemy but as real people. There was the massive betrayal of Sparky working with the VC and laying mines, but the movie ends on such a powerful note, showing the GIs and the Vietnamese playing make shift baseball and laughing with each other. It was legitimately heartwarming.

Bechdel test: Nooooooooo. As with all the other Vietnam war movies there are only like, two women.

Best line:
In the midst of too much Robin Williams improv to choose anything, I pick a Forest Whitaker line instead…

Garlick: No things are not all right. A man does not refer to Pat Boone as a beautiful genius if things are all right.

State of Mind: That was pretty lovely. A bit dull in the middle but, definitely good and one I’ll watch again. Sooo much lighter than the other Vietnam war films I’ve seen for this list. So much. There were sad moments, and violence, they didn’t gloss over those things, but it had such a big heart and so many laughs, which… well. That’s Robin in a nutshell isn’t it?

Watched movie count


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