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Wayback Wednesday: Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Robin Williams is an international treasure.

If there’s a type of movie I’ve never been able to get behind, it’s the war genre. I’ve seen a handful of movies about different wars and time after time, I end the movie either unsatisfied, annoyed, or deeply regretting the choice. My main problem is that so many of them (mostly the ones based in fiction) seem to be the same inconsequential story again and again. Seriously. It’s like the only story war movies are able to tell are about some man trying to find another man to give him a piece of information from another man. Not exactly compelling. In fact, the only war-ish movie I’ve ever slightly enjoyed was The Imitation Game (2014). That had some depth to it. While Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) may not have been quite as deep, this was still a pretty enjoyable movie that puts the war genre back in my good graces.

Credit: / Buena Vista Pictures

Loosely based on the experiences of Armed Services Radio Service DJ Adrian Cronauer, Good Morning, Vietnam follows Cronauer as he becomes the new radio DJ at an American base in Saigon, Vietnam in 1965 during the Vietnam war. Irreverent and wacky, Cronauer’s comedy stylings greatly entertain the troops, but enrage his uptight superiors.

Like I said, war movies and I generally don’t mix. I totally respect the artistry and skill that go into making them and I understand the appeal they hold, but they’re just never going to be my thing. Camp classics and grisly horrors, they are not. That being said, I think I managed to actually pick an excellent choice for my first review of a war-adjacent movie. Good Morning, Vietnam definitely uses the Vietnam war as a backdrop for its story, but doesn’t get dulled down by the usual storylines and clichés that I personally find so uninteresting about the genre. There’s a decidedly much lighter tone to this movie that makes it easier to digest. The focus on censorship in the media and the even larger focus on how comedy can boost morale certainly make this war movie more appealing to me than most. However, there’s still a touch too much military jargon and nonsense for my liking. Thankfully, there’s two hours of Robin Williams being utterly brilliant to help me endure.

Even if a movie isn’t really up your alley, sometimes a phenomenal leading actor can keep you invested even when you normally would have checked out. That’s how I feel about Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam. I know it’s a cliché to say, but I firmly believe that this man could have made reading the phone book a hysterically memorable event. As Adrian, Williams is transcendent. His lead performance is the undisputed headline of Good Morning, Vietnam. I fucking LOVE Williams and this is a perfect role for him. His rapid fire comedy style was made for the role of a comedy radio DJ and the dialogue seems to be tailor-made for Williams. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there were a fair amount of the actor’s famous improvisational skills in there as we. In fact, watching Good Morning, Vietnam is a lot like watching a Robin Williams stand-up show. This movie a strong example of how much whimsy and laughter Williams was able to bring to any movie with just a few sharp jokes or a zany bit of physical comedy. It’s a full display of the unbridled cartoon-like talent and joy that Williams so effortlessly conveyed, but he’s also acting his damn socks off as well. It’s a multi-layered role that shows how versatile Williams was as an actor and I’m sure landed him roles such as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), and Good Will Hunting (1997). This Oscar-nominated performance is required viewing for any one who’s a fan of Williams.

I enjoyed Good Morning, Vietnam when for the most part, it gave Williams the opportunity to riff and be as charming and animated as he wanted to. When the movie (understandably) veered into the trials and tribulations of being at war, it was then when my interest began to wane. Williams’ magnetic performance is the spark that makes this movie worth watching. Forest Whitaker, Tung Thanh Tran, and an unrecognizably clean-shaven Bruno Kirby all deliver adequate, earnest, performances, but they’re very much supporting performances. Take away Williams’ boundless charisma to rev them up and set the bar, and the movie as a whole would be fairly meh. Don’t get me wrong, director Barry Levinson crafts a perfectly fine movie, it’s just that if you were to remove Williams, it probably wouldn’t be very well-remembered. Although, I suppose many could remember this movie for its soundtrack which is filled with TONS of fantastic bops from the 1960s! Oh my God, it was so funny and jarring that Cronauer was getting in trouble for playing “controversial” music and he’s literally playing The Beach Boys and The Marvelettes. Wild!

For me, Good Morning, Vietnam is a one-and-done kind of movie. It was on my list of movies to see, I was blown away by Williams’ moving performance, I was glad I saw it, and now I’ll honestly probably never watch it again. And it’s totally fine to feel that way about some movies! Not every movie can be your favourite or still hold up after hundreds of viewings. Some movies are best enjoyed for a single moment. Like when I visited Stonehenge in England. It was cool to see, but I never ever want to relive that experience again. Ever.

Have you seen Good Morning, Vietnam? What are you favourite Robin Williams movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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