Good Morning Vietnam: Special Edition
February 27, 2006
Starring: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, J.T. Walsh, Bruno Kirby, Robert Wuhl, Richard Edson, Noble Willingham, Juney Smith, Tung Thanh Tran, Chintara Sukapatana, Richard Portnow, Floyd Vivino, Cu Ba Nguyen, ,
Good Morning Vietnam (1987) is one of Robin Williams’ earliest forays into drama. While The World According to Garp (1982) is arguably his first attempt to be taken seriously and blend his comedic sensibilities with drama, Good Morning maintains a much better balance. The first half of the movie is an anarchic anti-authoritarian comedy as Airman Adrian Cronauer (Williams) butts heads with his strict commanding officers, Lt. Hauk (Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickerson (Walsh) over his unorthodox radio show that features rock ‘n’ roll music and biting political humour broadcast to the troops serving in Vietnam. The second half has the comedy take a back seat in favour of an unrequited romance between Cronauer and a young Vietnamese woman named Trinh (Sukapatana) and the growing insurgency in Saigon.
Mitch Markowitz’s screenplay makes a smooth transition between these two halves by doing it gradually with elements of comedy and drama blending together naturally so that neither one is entirely abandoned in favour of the other. Good Morning begins to veer away from being a straight-out comedy when Cronauer becomes a teacher at an English-as-a-second language school in order to get closer to Trinh. The introduction of this setting gives us a little insight into the Vietnamese people as Cronauer begins to interact with Trinh and her family, in particular her brother, Tuan (Thanh Tran). The scene where he introduces himself to the class is particularly memorable because it is Cronauer the comedian playing to the hardest room of his career – a group that does not understand English. At first, they are unimpressed and confused but he eventually is able to communicate with them on a basic level. There is a spontaneous feel to these scenes as if what the Vietnamese actors are saying was unscripted and Williams is simply reacting to whatever they say.
Director Barry Levinson successfully harnessed the comedian’s wild, manic energy in this movie. Of course, the Williams’ radio monologues (famously adlibbed by the comedian) are the highlights as he cuts loose with his trademark rapid-fire humour (“What’s the difference between the Army and the Cub Scouts? Cub Scouts don’t have heavy artillery.”). Williams is an actor who needs a strong director to rein him in. His best movies are the ones where he collaborated with a director who had their own distinctive vision (Peter Weir, Terry Gilliam and Gus Van Sant) and this one is no different.
Even though Good Morning is essentially a vehicle for Williams, Levinson wisely surrounds him with a strong supporting cast of character actors, like Robert Wuhl, Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh. Kirby is excellent as the terminally unfunny and unhip Lt. Hauk. The scene where he temporarily takes over Cronauer’s show with his own brand of comedy is almost painful to watch. There is also an amusing running gag about how no one ever salutes him despite his rank because no one takes him seriously. Walsh proves to be a very credible antagonist to Williams with his sober intensity and gravitas that he brings to the role. Williams is such a force of nature and a larger than life personality that he needs someone who is just as forceful and Walsh does an excellent job as Cronauer’s polar opposite.
Along with Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth (1993), Good Morning Vietnam gives a human dimension to the Vietnamese people. Unlike many other Vietnam War movies of the ‘80s, the Vietnamese are not portrayed as some anonymous enemy but real people with their own distinctive personalities. If anything, Good Morning personalizes the Vietnam War and questions, in its own way, what exactly the United States was doing there in the first place while delivering an entertaining movie as well.
There is a six part “Production Diary” that runs 34 minutes. This is a retrospective look back at how the film came together and just how much of it is based on the real Adrian Cronauer who is interviewed. He sets the record straight and even talks about the origins of his famous sign-on (and the film’s title). Director Barry Levinson talks about Robin Williams’ extensive improvisations and how the director knew when to let him go and when he had to stick to the script. One part also focuses on the film’s fantastic soundtrack of ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll music and the role it played in the movie. Levinson knew exactly what music he wanted to use and where in the movie. Another segment focuses on the actual shoot that took place in Thailand and the logistical nightmare of filming there. Add to that the extremely hot weather which, incidentally, gave the film a certain amount of authenticity. There are lots of good anecdotes told but sadly, only cast members Bruno Kirby and Robert Wuhl are back with Williams no where to be found.
“Raw Monologues” features 13 minutes of footage from Williams’ radio monologues that was not used or alternate takes of some of the jokes. There is some pretty funny material here but it is fascinating to see this material in rough form, watching how Williams would refine it by dropping some bits and keeping others with slight variations.
Finally, there is the original teaser and theatrical trailers.