FF121 - Good Morning, Vietnam

Intro by John Roderick

"Good morning, Vietnam!" I don't have the heart! I heard that bit so many times in 1987 that I could never in good conscience add one more rendition of it to the world. Robin Williams (God bless him!) really more than any other comedian had a way of coming up with bits that he really hoped you would never have to hear again, but that every Harbor Freight-authorized Makita sales-person and cold-storage forklift shift-leader wanted to repeat at the top of their lungs until they had rung every last ashy half-laugh from them at the expense of everyone else's sanity.

Can you imagine choosing to shout your catchphrase at the top of your lungs? Like, why would you do that to yourself? Here is the thing about microphones: They were invented so you didn't need to shout. You could whisper your catchphrase into a microphone and the radio-compression would actually make it louder than if you shouted! Shouting into a microphone is like getting off your bike to walk it down the hill! (big sigh)

1987 was absolute peak-Boomer-onanism. The whole messy clog of that generation was hitting their 40s, dripping Clapton LPs and Wayfarers all over the nice furniture, ready for a fresh re-evaluation of the Vietnam War to make it seem like maybe it had always been kind of cocaine-y and fun and ballsy instead of being a major drag that just kept being more of a drag the further away from it we got.

Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Hamburger Hill all came out within a year's time and while all of them wanted to refight Vietnam to try to make sense of it, none of them seem interested in winning the war with dramedy-laugh-tears. Well, it was worth trying! I suppose there is room in the world for nam-comedies or "namidies"? I mean, we all loved Operation Dumble Drop, or whatever? I forget, that was a long time ago! But I mean: Other than that, is Good Morning, Vietnam the only one? Besides the Chuck Norris Colonel Braddock movies that he didn't intend to be comedies? That is it? Pretty much!

I mean, why is it so hard to make a namidy? There is just something about the tenor of that war that doesn't lend itself to hijinks. Air America is a good example of what happens when you try to make an action buddy-comedy about Vietnam, starring two bankable young actors, which is to say that you can only fail miserably and be universally derided. I can't wait for that film to come up in our feed!

The main character of today's film, Adrian Cronauer, was a real guy who was really in Vietnam and who did not resemble in any way the Robin Williams version of himself. The real Adrian Cronauer shopped this script around for a decade and didn't seem to care if he made it to the screen as a dog-food commercial as long as they spelled his name right. Robin Williams portrays Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer using his patented one-two-punch of saying every word has ever heard in no particular order, while perspiring, and looking extremely sad. This particular talent made him seem like the wisest man in the universe for some reason for so long.

His Cronauer bolstered the morale of troops, he won the hearts of the Vietnamese, he stuck it to the man, except when the man didn't need it to be stuck to him, in which case he was well behaved to the man, and in all other respects singlehandedly proved that we all knew Vietnam was lousy the whole time, but we were trying to make the best of it. And also: Here is Fortunate Son while some helicopters landed in LZ.

Everyone loves Cronauer, even though - I swear - if you had to deal with an actual person behaving this way, you would frag him in his bunk week three, even if he was speaking truth to power, which he barely was. And then: Who could even tell? Because he was suddenly doing an Ethel Merman impression and now he is doing Topo Gigio and nobody even knows who that is.

Over the course of the film, Cronauer makes the troops laugh, he falls in love with a beautiful Vietnamese girl who wants nothing to do with him, he confronts some ugly truths, he has enough drinks to let you know he's suffering, he makes you cry a couple of poignant tears, and maybe hard cry has your heart swells with feeling, but in the end he doesn't win the war. (sigh) We know how the war turned out!

The point is that in 1987 we were still trying to win the hearts and minds of ourselves and even though we knew it was a bad war that added nothing to the world: Maybe we could walk away from it, knowing at least that we meant well? We got all those Creedence records out of the deal!

In the end, Cronauer's defense is: He is just a guy. We are all just doing our best. And like all the best war comedies, this one climaxes with Cronauer's young Viet Cong friend rage-screaming at him about how horrible and unjust the war is, while Cronauer lamely pushes back. Somehow that scene does not leave us feeling the United States committed any crime, nor that the Vietnamese are wrong to be mad. Adrian Cronauer doesn't care about any of that stuff. He is just a guy!

To make a comedy about Vietnam and to have it become a major hit and a cultural touchstone you have to be either a cynic, a nihilist, or part of a team of deft film-makers and comedy-geniuses who nail the Zeitgeist and produce a masterwork. We will see which it is, today as we review the 1987 namedy directed by Barry Levinson. "You know, Eddie, sometimes you got to specifically go out of your way to get into trouble! It is called fun!" Today on Friendly Fire: Good Morning, Vietnam!

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