The problem with watching a film like Good Morning, Vietnam for the first time in the year 2014 is that we’ve already had decades to witness the magical talent that was the late, great Robin Williams. So, while this film was ground-breaking for Williams’ career due to his incredible non-stop ability to ad-lib, watching it now just feels like we’re watching more of what we’ve come to expect from Williams’ extensive catalog and that it’s nothing new.
That being said, Williams’ not-as-realistic portrayal of the real-life Adrian Cronauer commands your attention in that way for which Williams always had a knack. Amongst the impressions he does in the film, you’re sure to see some of his regulars, like the slow-drawling hillbilly and the loud Broadway shouts of Ethel Merman. And, of course, when Williams’ Cronauer stirs the pot and gets suspended, and Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) thinks he can take his place and do better comedy, well, we all know what a terrible idea that will turn out to be.
The plot of this film is much the same as any other “defy authority” kind of picture. They tell Cronauer what he can and can’t say on the air, and of course there comes a point where he defies his orders because doing the right thing is more important than following the rules. And, of course, he is the thorn in his superiors’ side because he won’t blindly follow what they tell him to do just because they’re of a higher rank.
The side plot, which eventually becomes much more than just a side plot, involves Cronauer trying to pursue a pretty local named Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana), even going so far as to substitute himself in as the teacher of the English class she is taking and becoming good friends with her brother, Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran), to get on her good side.
Tuan even comes to Cronauer’s rescue multiple times, saving him from everything from being two seconds away from becoming a casualty in a restaurant that is eventually bombed to, once again, potentially becoming a casualty when one of the higher-ups arranges it so that Cronauer and Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker) end up on a Viet Cong-controlled roadway in an effort to dispatch of Cronauer once and for all.
Perhaps the most moving moment of the film is when Cronauer performs his radio routine for a convoy of soldiers in the middle of the street just before they go off to fight. The soldiers’ reactions look genuine, like they actually cast real soldiers to simply provide their names to Williams and enjoy his ripping on them shortly before they go off to fight in the war.
But it’s in this moment that Cronauer picks their spirits up, and it serves as a good reminder to him of just how important humor, as well as a purveyor of humor, can be in times of trouble and crisis - much in the same way that his broadcast has become to those who are listening.