PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
In 1966, Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams), of the United States Air Force, arrives in Saigon from Crete to work as a DJ for the Armed Forces Radio Service there. Cronauer is greeted, and also befriended, by Private First Class Edward Montesquieu Garlick (Forest Whitaker). Cronauer’s irreverence contrasts sharply with many staff members and soon rouses the ire of two of his superiors, Second Lieutenant Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sergeant Major Dickerson (J. T. Walsh). Hauk adheres to strict Army guidelines in terms of humor and music programming, while Dickerson is annoyed by Cronauer’s behavior in general. However, Brigadier General Taylor (Noble Willingham) and the other DJs quickly grow to like the new man and his brand of comedy. Cronauer’s show consists of unpredictable humor segments mixed with news updates (vetted by the station censors Dan and Don Santon) and rock and roll records that are frowned upon by his superiors. Hauk finds nothing funny about any of it and tries, without success, to get him to change his approach.
Cronauer meets Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana), a Vietnamese girl, and follows her to an English class. Bribing the teacher to let him take over the job, Cronauer starts instructing the students in the use of American slang. Once class is dismissed, he tries to talk to Trinh but is stopped by her brother Tuan, who tells him to leave her alone. Instead, Cronauer befriends Tuan and takes him to Jimmy Wah’s, the local G.I. bar, to have drinks with Garlick and the station staff. Two other soldiers, angered at Tuan’s presence, start a fight with the group that rapidly escalates into a full-scale brawl.
Dickerson reprimands Cronauer for this incident, but the broadcasts and unorthodox English classes go on as usual. Impressed with the DJ’s behavior, Tuan sets him up on a date with Trinh, with the rest of the family chaperoning them. While relaxing in Jimmy Wah’s one afternoon, he is pulled outside by Tuan moments before the building explodes, killing two soldiers and leaving Cronauer badly shaken. The cause of the explosion is determined to be a bomb planted inside; the news is censored, but he locks himself in the studio and reports it anyway. Dickerson cuts off the broadcast signal in mid-report and Cronauer is suspended. Hauk takes over his time slots, but his poor attempts at comedy and insistence on playing polka music, instead of rock and roll, lead to a flood of letters and phone calls from servicemen who demand that Hauk be removed and that Cronauer be put back on the air.
In the meantime, Cronauer spends most of his time drinking and trying to pursue a relationship with Trinh, only to be rebuffed at every attempt. At the radio station Taylor intervenes on his behalf, ordering Hauk to reinstate him, but Cronauer refuses to go back to work when Garlick brings him the news. He now fears that Dickerson will send him to the front lines if he does anything else wrong. During a traffic jam, Garlick and Cronauer’s vehicle is stopped by a convoy of soldiers; the GIs persuade him to do an impromptu “broadcast” for them, giving them a good laugh before they go off to fight. The performance for the troops – many of whom Cronauer realizes won’t come back alive – renews his sense of purpose and reminds him why his job is important during the war, and he is soon back on the air.
Dickerson devises a ploy to get rid of Cronauer by sending him and Garlick to interview soldiers in the field – knowing that the only road into this particular area, An Lộc, is controlled by the Viet Cong (VC). Their jeep is blown off the road by a mine and they are forced to hide in the jungle from the VC patrols. Back in Saigon, Tuan learns of their trip after Cronauer fails to show up for English class, then steals a van and drives off after them. He finds them, but the van breaks down and they must flag down an Army helicopter to take them back to the city.
At the station, a gleeful Dickerson confronts Cronauer, declaring he is now off the air for good. Dickerson informs Cronauser that his friend “Tuan” is actually Phan Duc To, a VC operative responsible for the bombing of Jimmy Wah’s. He will be killed if the Army catches up to him. Dickerson has arranged for an honorable discharge, provided Cronauer leaves “quietly.” Brigadier General Taylor arrives, and informs Cronauer that he cannot help this time; a US Armed Forces member being friends with a Vietcong could be a serious PR problem for the Army. Once Cronauer has left, however, Taylor informs Dickerson that he is being transferred to Guam as punishment for his vindictive attitude.
Cronauer finds Trinh and angrily persuades her to take him to her brother. Calling out his real name, he chases him into a back lot, where a tense argument erupts between Cronauer and Tuan, where the latter accuses Cronauer and the American forces of being the real enemy in the war and killing most of his family and quickly disappears from the area.
The next day, on his way to the airport, Cronauer sets up a quick softball game with the students from his English class. As he boards the plane, he gives Garlick a taped farewell message; Garlick – taking Cronauer’s place as DJ – plays the tape on the air the next morning. It begins with a yell of “Gooooooooooooooooodbye, Vietnam!” and runs through a few of Cronauer’s impressions before ending with his wish that everyone will get home safely.
Good Morning, Vietnam is one of those films that I fondly remember as a kid. Why, you may ask? Well, I remember it being one of the first movies my family rented when we got a VCR, along withTop Gun(which I will be getting to later this year…hopefully). Many years later, I am now watching the DVD version, and wondering does it still have that same appeal it did back then?
What did I like?
Rockin’ Robin. Nowadays, Robin Williams is on one end of the spectrum or another, but back when this film was released he was in rare form. When he is on the air, I found myself cracking up almost as much as I did when he was on Mork & Mindy.
Not all fun and games. For all the comedy and the little love story we get, it is easy to forget that this is going on during a war. Just as we forget, buildings blow up and people die. Nice little touch of reality without getting all Saving Private Ryan on the audience.
Laugh, Forest, laugh. Forest Whitaker’s younger days are interesting to me. We know him nowadays as a serious Oscar-winning actor, but he’s also pretty good when it comes to some comedy, even if he is laughing in just about every scene, like in this film. I think, though, that is what made his character so likable, and the perfect replacement after Williams is forced to leave at the film’s conclusion.
True story. I had no idea that this was a true story. Obviously, some liberties were taken, but this guy Adrian Cronauer is a real person. From what I understand, though, he is the exact opposite of the way Williams portrayed him. It makes you wonder how this film got made. Still, I think it was an interesting story.
What didn’t I like?
Commanding douchebags. With the exception of the general, the officers in command were total douches, and for no apparent reason. Does having a couple of bars on your shoulders automatically make you the living embodiment of evil or something? It sure seemed like it here.
Mr. Charlie. I know it was Vietnam and this is a true story, but there was just something odd about the way the whole terrorist angle near the end of the film went down. Almost like it was a conspiracy. I was half expecting it to come back to the Sgt. Major.
Class act. Cronauer takes over an English class in an attempt to woo this girl he’s pursuing. My question about that is…what happened to the guy that was actually getting paid to teach that class? Is he still getting paid, or was it now Cronauer’s class. Just a minor query on my part, is all.
Naked children. I know some people out there thought this was cute to see little Vietnamese boys bathing in the street, but seriously, why was this necessary? More importantly, why was it necessary to show them full frontal?
Does Good Morning, Vietnam withstand the test of time? For me, it does. I enjoyed this film just as much, if not more than I did when I first saw it. They just don’t make pictures like this anymore, which is truly a shame. I highly recommend this to anyone that wants a good laugh. You’ll get more than your fair share by watching this, I assure you!
4 3/4 out of 5 stars