If your eighth-grade classroom was like most, your class clown was a guarded, smallish boy who was utterly terrified of being himself for even a moment, for fear of suffering the ridicule of others. So he made cracks all day long, and if your classmates laughed every one in a while, you may have eventually seen this kid in adulthood spitting jokes professionally in the vicinity of a brick wall.
In Barry Levinson's Good Morning, Vietnam, Robin Williams is this very kid, advanced 30 years but still guarded and more joke-bot than human being. As Adrian Cronauer, Williams the standup comic finds himself in the toughest of rooms, Saigon, for a slot on Armed Forces Radio during America's escalating war in Asia. With Williams' Gatlin gun shtick, Cronauer brings staticky joy to the beleaguered grunts in the bush and simultaneously runs afoul of the brass trying to maintain military order on the air.
While the movie occasionally smacks of a Williams concert film that's been run through a time machine, Levinson and writer Mitch Markowitz have crafted a brilliant story about a comedian way, way off his stage. Out of the studio, Cronauer teaches English to locals, befriends the regulars in a local bar, and even romances a pretty young thing in town. Confronted with love, friendship, fear, violence, and eventually betrayal, Cronauer finds himself forced to lower the funnyman shields that protect him from dealing with his own reality. Years later, this is Williams' best acting work.
Also thanks to Levinson's fine work, the supporting cast manages to shine through Williams' massive shadow, particularly Bruno Kirby as a stuck-up station manager who quite incorrectly considers himself an accomplished comic personality, and Robert Wuhl as, well, Robert Wuhl.
Although Good Morning, Vietnam was just one of a firehose blast of late '80s 'Nam pictures (Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War), Levinson distinguished it by moving the focus away from the inhumanity of war and to something both smaller and bigger at the same time. His GMV is not a comedy about Vietnam; it's a story about a mere class clown becoming a man at the gates of Hell.
The new Special Edition DVD includes numerous making-of featurettes and, notably, raw footage of Williams improvising his on-air scenes.
In Theaters: Friday 15th January 1988
Box Office Worldwide: $123.9M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners III
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Barry Levinson
Screenwriter: Mitch Markowitz
Starring: Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer, Forest Whitaker as Edward Montesque Garlick, Tung Thanh Tran as Tuan, Chintara Sukapatana as Trinh, Bruno Kirby as Lt. Steven Hauk, Robert Wuhl as Marty Lee Dreiwitz, J. T. Walsh as Sgt. Major Dickerson, Noble Willingham as Gen. Taylor, Richard Edson as Pvt. Abersold, Juney Smith as Phil McPherson, Richard Portnow as Dan 'The Man' Levitan, Cu Ba Nguyen as Jimmy Wah, Dan Stanton as Censor #1, Don Stanton as Censor #2, Floyd Vivino as Eddie Kirk