IHAO on ... Good Morning, Vietnam

This is the film that launched Robin Williams' career, going from stand-up and playing a lovable alien on television to being a funny man in a surprisingly dour war drama.  This film made clear the identity of Robin Williams we all loved, that of the lovable fast-talker who shows real emotion and acts far better than he has any need to in most films he is in.  I wrote a piece on Williams after his unfortunate passing on his film World's Greatest Dad, and in there I touch on my own feelings on Williams and his career.  So now, a little over a month later, its time I watched the film that started it all.

Good Morning, Vietnam is a semi-autobiographical Vietnam war film about a radio jockey for the US military.  He played by his own rules and his own comedy, lifted the spirits of those around him, and maybe some unfortunate mistakes as well.  Not any mistakes that were truly his fault or even shown as true mistakes in the film, but nonetheless, he is forced to by the end of the film leave his surprisingly short tenure as a radio personality in Vietnam with a dishonorable discharge.

The film's drama focuses on two sides to Williams' character's life: the army, and the locals.  In the army, Williams has to deal with fighting to do things his way, bringing good music to the troops out there, and arguing over idiot officers over him who don't know what comedy is.  They end up trying to discretely get him murdered by the Vietcong at one point, but in the end are more easily able to just get him kicked out of his own volition or he'll be charged with treason.  Why?  How?  Well, a young Vietnamese kid he became strong friends with turns up to be a Vietcong bomber.  It isn't particularly subtle or surprising, especially once a GI bar gets blown up, but the emotions and thoughts it brings to mind are interesting.  And since Williams was hanging with a Vietcong member, they offered him his way out so that the officers, who are the antagonists, got what they wanted.


If you can't tell by the above, I found this film a little hollow.  There are some nice scenes, with the aftermath of the explosion at the GI bar being the best of the film, as well as some interesting ones where the idiot lieutenant argues about what comedy is with Williams then proves himself wrong by being terrible as a replacement.  But the whole film just falls flat for me.  There isn't a lot of weight given to the occurrences, the passage of time is very very fast so it feels like only a week or so passes by in the 6 months the film takes place in.  On top of that, the film is a long sit.  And even worse, all the characters, other than Forrest Whitiker's, stay the same from beginning to end.  There is no real purpose in this film.

Now, part of this is because of the writer of the film writing about his own experiences.  He is not a writer by trade.  He was a radio personality.  Good Morning, Vietnam was originally conceived as a sitcom, where these two-dimensional characters would have fit more at home.  But in a film, we get no real movement or change.  We just watch events happen, and then that is the end.  Nothing changes, life moves on, the war continues.

So yeah, I'm pretty sure you can tell I didn't care for it.  War films are a hard sell for me, and while there was stuff I liked, in the end, the whole film just meant nothing to me.  It just acts as a space holder.  Nothing really learned, nothing really experienced, no real stakes.  Just a hollow chamber of a film, with Robin Williams' voice and humor resonating on the inside.

Grade: C-

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