“GOOOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING VIETNAM! It’s Oh-Six-Hundred, what does the Oh stand for? OH MY GOD IT’S EARLY!”
I don’t think the 1987 Barry Levinson film Good Morning, Vietnam needs any introduction beyond that.
Airman Adrian Cronauer, United States Air Force, was the main radio personality stationed in Crete in the 1960s. During the Vietnam War, he was transferred to run a morning program for Armed Forces Radio out of Saigon. He brought his own style, his comedic style, and a taste for modern rock-and-roll music. Unfortunately, his personality and energy run counter to those of his superiors. He does his best to maintain his independence and commitment to the truth, and starts befriending locals. Things begin to get complicated when he runs afoul of both a vindictive base commander and the mascinations of the Viet Cong. The troops love him, though – if there’s ever a time to be reminded of the importance of laughter, it’s wartime.
Before we delve into the people responsible for bringing Cronauer’s true story to life, we should take a step back and consider that this film, broadly considered a landmark comedy, also took it upon itself to depict the conflict in Vietnam in very human terms. When Cronauer isn’t cracking jokes over the radio and flipping off authority, he’s teaching people English slang and trying to get to know a local girl and her brother. None of these secondary characters are treated as parodies or charicatures. In a time when the United States was still wrestling with its conflict against Soviet powers, this film eschewed jingoistic viewpoints and presented both the Americans and the Vietnamese as what they are – human beings.
Every character in this film feels very real.
Barry Levinson, Good Morning, Vietnam‘s director, was already a veteran film-maker in 1987. He worked with Mel Brooks, and had major success with The Natural. He clearly demonstrates that he has an excellent sense of balance and timing in his direction. The comedy that practically runs rampant through a great deal of the film is balanced out perfectly with character development and the aforementioned pathos. All of the shots are clear, and everything is clearly defined. But I feel I’m stalling a bit, so let’s get to the heart of the matter.
It is a great tragedy that we recently lost Robin Williams. This film is one of his best performances. Much like the direction, his work is very well balanced. When he’s on the radio or mouthing off, his comedy is fantastic and side-splitting. When he’s teaching people or trying to relate to his ladyfriend or her brother, he’s likeable and charming. And when he’s faced with adversity, we believe his agony and frustration. On top of his comedy skills and improvisation, he was a fantastic actor. We miss him already.
His performances are, thankfully, immortalized.
Good Morning, Vietnam is a bonafide classic. It is a slice from the past that tells its story with authenticity and earnestness. Despite the fact that it’s told from an American perspective, it shows the conflict in a very human light and keeps us engaged from beginning to end. And the comedy is on-point and fantastic. It’s available on Netflix, and if you haven’t seen it, even if it’s been a while, you should call it up. It’s a fantastic watch.