Goooooooood Mooooooorning Viiieeetnammm! I’m a little late to the party I know, but I wanted to take a look at a film that in many ways personifies Robin Williams. In the last months, I have gotten to read a lot on William’s as a comic and as an actor. When I watch this film which showcases his many skills, I am especially drawn to what I call his bipolar comedy. Let me explain. On the surface, he seems like a pleasant-faced average Joe with a little twinkle in his eye. Maybe there are even moments of emotion or sadness that make their way out. Then, bing pow! The lights go on, the sirens sound, and all chaos breaks loose.
Adrian Cronauer is the perfect embodiment of William’s quick wit and off the wall antics. He has a constant supply of new voices and old reliable ones, not to mention cultural and political jokes. It all gets thrown in so fast you hardly get to bat an eye, and he does it all with that rye smile and one defiant attitude.
This is yet another nostalgic 1980s classic directed by Barry Levinson. The story begins in 1965 with the jockey getting shipped in from Crete, and soon he is the hero of all the underlings especially his young compatriot Private Garlick (Forrest Whitaker). Immediately the power dynamic is rather odd. The General overseeing everything loves his zany, sometimes crass, take on comedy. His two immediate superiors are less than pleased with his early showings of insubordination. If the General is any indication, Cronauer’s mix of humor, (censored) news updates and groovy rock n’ roll prove insanely popular.
In his spare time, Cronauer pursues a young Vietnamese girl while teaching an English class to locals. They soon enjoy his more slang-based approach to English, and he befriends a boy named Tuan. He also has some time to start a brawl at a local hangout and eventually see it blown to smithereens. It’s after this one occasion where he gets fed up with the censors controlling what he says because it doesn’t seem right. It seems too regular army, and he is certainly not that. Cronauer is suspended but during his hiatus, he gains a new found zeal performing for the boys in the field.
Due to popular demand, he gets reinstate,d but his superior, who has always had it in for him, connects him with a wanted South Vietnamese terrorist, and Cronauer soon gets the boot with an honorable discharge. The former disc jockey realizes Tuan lied to him all along, but after confronting the boy he fulfills one last commitment with his English class. Cronauer flies off into the wild blue yonder, but not without leaving a gift with Garlick for all the boys. Gooooodbyeeee Vietnaaaam!
This was a grade A performance by Robin Williams and the soundtrack was absolutely superb, full of big and small hits alike. Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” was especially impactful due to the images that were juxtaposed with it. Furthermore, just as much of what Cronauer was lost to his students, I feel like many of his cultural quips might get lost to newer generations. I sincerely hope they do not and his political commentary will always swirl around like any of the controversy surrounding Vietnam. The magic of the character is his ability to make men laugh despite their circumstances. The magic of Robin Williams is that he was a man who made us laugh in all circumstances.