Good Morning Vietnam spews non-stop improvisational comedy live on air with some now questionable politics. Regarded essentially as the self-titled "one man Robin Williams show", this comedy-drama is yet another addition to the saturated war genre of the 80s that depicted the Vietnam War. Only this time, instead of purely focusing on the conflict's brutality and overwhelming sense of American patriotism, it desires you to laugh instead. How many impressions can Williams do in one film? Far too many! That's all fine and dandy, considering it offers an entirely different perspective altogether, however Levinson forcibly involves poignant drama that never feels developed enough to convey evocative sentiments, consequently creating a jarring tone that ultimately doesn't suit the bustling chaos of Saigon. A radio DJ is recruited to host a show on Armed Forces Radio Service, but must deal with his infuriated superiors who believe him to be a loose cannon.
Improvisation is a talent. It's the ultimate level of comedic power. To spew unscripted humour for minutes on end without the dialogue producing cumbersome stutters is, well, genius. That is why, and practically the sole reason why, this film works. Robin Williams was blindingly fantastic. Without him, the comedy dissipates. Without him, the contrasting demeanour and attitude against his colleagues wouldn't be as profound. Without him, Good Morning Vietnam would be shouting "Goodbye" instead. Various lines of unscripted dialogue were funny, if you can understand his riffing tempo which exceeds the speed of sound (subtitles anyone?), however it's the scripted lines from Markowitz that anchored the comedy down to realism. It prevented Williams from becoming irreverent and overly hyperactive, a necessary juxtaposition to tackle the more poignant moments.
Unfortunately, despite the solid cast, soundtrack and comedy, it's Levinson's direction and Markowitz' overly dramatic plot details that prove futile. There's a fine line between comedy and cultural appropriation. Constantly remarking Vietnamese civilians as stereotypically short, no matter how well-intentioned the dialogue may be, prevents the film from ageing well. It's on the boundary of being deemed as insulting, and I'm not one for condoning that behaviour, especially for comic relief. Sure, times have changed, but that doesn't necessarily mean I have to agree with the previous tolerance for appropriation.
Next, is the embedding of cultural exploration. The apparent poignant dramatic elements arise from the protagonist randomly seeking out a Vietnamese woman and desiring her adoration. This then allowed Levinson to depict Vietnamese culture, as all war films did back then, yet in the most uninspired and incommodious method. It never once felt natural. Beyond forced, it allowed Adrian to assimilate himself within the local community, but at what cost? The montage of anarchic chaos that plagued the streets of Saigon had no emotional impact because of this very reason. Too artificially created, just to appease both perspectives of the conflict.
Then we come to my final criticism, the unwanted antagonist. Why oh why did they feel they had to have a villainous sergeant, I'll have no idea. But here we are. And there is one particularly ridiculous moment within the film that made me question the entire politics of the Armed Forces' inner workings. The sergeant sending two innocent colleagues through a Viet Cong-controlled route, just to rid of them because he didn't like Adrian's work ethic. Firstly, irresponsible use of power. Secondly, absurdly unbelievable! The plot didn't need an antagonistic archetype, the conflict within the office complemented the conflict within the country. That microcosm alone was enough to balance the drama with the comedy. Don't be sending characters into a death trap, just so the audience can acknowledge the intimidation of VC patrols (for a total of two minutes!). It's not worth it.
Safe to say, despite the film not being bad in the slightest and harnessing one of Williams' best performances, I remained disappointed throughout. Various plot details envenomated the comedic moments and produced an unbalanced drama that infuriated more than entertained.