This week wasn’t a great week for the acting community. We lost two all-time greats in the span of just a few days. Robin Williams, perhaps out of his prime but with unquestionably so much more to give us was the newsworthy loss and Tyler selected his movie exactly to feature him. The more under-the-radar death (the one that can make you think, “she wasn’t already dead?”) was that of Lauren Bacall. Bacall made 72 appearances on the screen in her career but had thus far eluded Cinema 1544.
For our short this week, I fixed that, presenting a 2008 short entitled Eve, written and directed by Natalie Portman. It’s a bit long and a bit more depressing but it’s worth a watch. The second time through it did kind of grow on me.
For our feature presentation, Tyler selected a clear laugh-getter – 1987’s Good Morning, Vietnam, directed by Barry Levinson. It’s a film that features Robin Williams at his ad-lib best, but it’s also got a serious side. On top of that, with the haircut they gave Williams in this film, he looks spookily like my Ph.D. advisor:
It’s not quite the perfect picture, but it’s the best I could do given the resources of the internet. Back in about 1997 or so, Bruno had a bit longer hair and, well, let’s just say the resemblance was uncanny enough to remark on it.
As for the film itself, we start out with Adrian Cronauer, an Air Force Disc Jockey (So I guess that’s a real thing, huh? Seems like a pretty cushy gig, what with the whole “not getting shot at” thing.) who has recently been transferred from Crete to Vietnam, where in 1965 we are still involved in a “police action”. He starts in by immediately irritating his superiors with his “humor” and his “rock and roll” and his desire to read news that hasn’t been censored by the military. On the other hand, he really resonates with the servicemen. He gets fan mail. It’s unprecedented.
Of course, it’s not just two hours of Robin Williams giving a radio show – he’s also got a life off the air. He likes to hang out at the the local GI bar and chase after the local women, particularly those wearing parabolically transectable hats. One day he spies Trinh walking by and begins to get himself into all sorts of trouble.
First off, he chases Trinh to an English-as-a-second-language class and seeing no other way to meet her, he bribes the teacher to take over the class. Permanently. It’s OK, he’s got afternoons open until his second show at 4 PM. Still, this hail mary has little chance of working, and even when he tries to approach Trinh after class, he’s intercepted by her little brother Tuan.
Tuan is an annoying little snot who forces Adrian to jump through all sorts of hoops in the hopes that he might get an official introduction to his sister. Of course, Tuan turns out to be even more annoying when we learn very late in the movie that he’s an operative for the Viet Cong. I guess that probably should have been obvious, but I kind of let my guard down. Even when Tuan coincidentally used a lame excuse to get Adrian out of the GI bar mere seconds before a bomb went off, I was only mildly suspicious. I wasn’t even drinking. What was wrong with me?
Distressed by the incident, Adrian goes in to his show and ignoring the fact that it’s censored news, tells the audience about the Viet Cong bombing at the GI bar. This gets him whipped off the air right quick by the powers that be, but amidst a flurry of complaints from the troops the powers above the powers that be reinstate his air rights. The only problem is that Adrian’s pride is hurt, and he doesn’t want to go back on.
Enter Adrian’s constant sidekick Edward Garlick, who, unable to get him to change his mind, probably deliberately gets their jeep stuck in the midst of a traffic jam of troop transports and then loudly announces, “Hey, guess who this is in the passenger seat?” Well, upon hearing that they’re in the company of greatness the troops press Cronauer to do a bit of his act and he finally relents. He puts the boys in stitches and realizes the nature of his effect on the troops’ morale, sealing his return to the broadcast booth.
It’s a short-lived return, however, because his antagonistic commander deliberately sends him out on assignment down a jungle road known to be controlled by the V.C. He and Garlick hit a road mine, narrowly escaping with the help of a Tuan in hot pursuit. They never quite wonder why it is that Tuan is able to travel through V.C.-controlled territory, but the commander sniffs out Tuan’s true identity and the game is up for Adrian. Due to his association with Tuan, the military has to hush the whole connection up, so they give him an honorable discharge and ship him back stateside. In the meantime, he confronts Tuan, says goodbye to the girl he never really had a chance with anyway, and plays a game of “baseball” (technically, a game of “smash a large southeastern asian citrus fruit with a bamboo stick”) with his ecstatic English class before leaving for good.
It’s a pretty good film – funny, got a bit of social commentary, you know, outside of the super-awkward one-off comments at the beginning of the movie suggesting that Adrian kill himself via hanging now that he’s stuck in Vietnam it was a perfect film to celebrate Robin Williams’ life.