GOOD MORNING VIETNAM and ONE HOUR PHOTO: A DOUBLE BILL OF ROBIN WILLIAMS MOVIE REVIEWS BY FILM CRITIC SANDRA HARRIS. ©
GOOD MORNING VIETNAM. (1987) DIRECTED BY BARRY LEVINSON. STARRING ROBIN WILLIAMS, FOREST WHITAKER, BRUNO KIRBY, RICHARD EDSON AND J.T. WALSH.
ONE HOUR PHOTO. (2002) DIRECTED BY MARK ROMANEK. STARRING ROBIN WILLIAMS, CONNIE NEILSEN, MICHAEL VARTAN, ERIN DANIELS, GARY COLE, DYLAN SMITH, PAUL H. KIM AND ERIQ LA SALLE.
The late great Robin Williams gives two immensely memorable and deeply contrasting performances in these two films. They’re certainly two of his most well-known movies, along with MRS. DOUBTFIRE, DEAD POETS’ SOCIETY and kids’ film JUMANJI, amongst many others.
I actually think that his performance as the disturbed Sy Parrish in ONE HOUR PHOTO is my favourite ever performance of his. He plays it totally ‘straight’ in this film, which is kind of weird considering that most people remember Robin Williams as the motor-mouthed funny man who was able to take pretty much any notion or idea under the sun and immediately make a rapid-fire comedy monologue out of it without breaking a sweat.
Another thing I personally remember about the deceased comedy actor, incidentally, is that he had incredibly hairy arms and that the hit animated comedy THE SIMPSONS cited a ‘Robin Williams level of hairiness’ as being pretty much the hairiest state of being that any human male could aspire to, haha. I’m sure he wasn’t offended by this. After all, excessive hairiness has always equated to high levels of masculinity, hasn’t it? So it’s all good. Unless of course you’re a woman…!
In ONE HOUR PHOTO, Robin Williams plays a desperately lonely middle-aged man called Sy Parrish who works in- you guessed it!- the ‘One Hour Photo’ section of a busy mall. Here he develops the photographs of happy, affluent and productive families who all seem to have been so much luckier than himself in the way in which their lives have panned out.
Over the course of the movie, it becomes clear that Sy has become obsessed with one family in particular, the Yorkins. He doesn’t wish them any harm at all. He just wishes that he were part of their seemingly perfect family unit.
There’s a Perfect Mom, a Perfect Dad and even a Perfect Little Boy, Jake. Although the Yorkins only know Sy as the guy from the photo kiosk in the mall (and that’s the way they want to keep it!), Sy likes to imagine himself as a sort of kindly uncle figure in their perfect lives.
The fantasy scenes in which Sy fondly imagines himself as a Yorkin are superbly done, but when the viewer is permitted to witness how Sy actually lives, the sadness becomes all-pervading. His life is lonely beyond belief and the viewer can’t help but wonder what kind of miserable childhood he had.
Sy doesn’t realise at first that the Yorkins, the family he’s chosen to worship from (kind of) afar, are nowhere near as perfect as he thinks they are. When he accidentally discovers that they are, in fact, deeply flawed, his mind can’t handle it and a train of events is set in motion that will have far-reaching consequences for all concerned. (Spoken like a true reviewer, that was. Tells you everything while at the same time giving feck-all away…!)
Gary Cole is terrific in this psychological thriller-slash-horror film as mall manager Bill Owens, and Eriq La Salle from ER does a great understated job as the Detective from Threat Management who’s called in when the s**t hits the fan.
Robin Wiliams himself turns in the performance of a lifetime, in my humble opinion, as the mild-mannered loner whose sanity has really only been hanging by a thread for a long time now. He cracks no jokes in this film, but his acting is one hundred million percent flawless.
Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer, Williams’s character in GOOD MORNING VIETNAM, couldn’t be more different to Sy Parrish if he tried. This film is loosely based on real events and it sees Robin Williams take on the role which surely he was born to play, that of the motor-mouthed comedian with a sweet and vulnerable heart under all the quickfire one-liners and sassy backchat.
American soldier Adrian Cronauer arrives in Saigon from Crete during the Vietnam War in 1965. He’s come to do his own radio show for the Armed Forces Radio Service. To say that he proves to be a breath of fresh air on the previously stuffy old airwaves wouldn’t be doing him justice. He’s more of a big fat kick up the backside than a breath of fresh air and the radio station really doesn’t have a clue what’s hit it.
Cronauer on the air is funny, irreverent, unpredictable and madcap, with a savage talent for mimicry. He pokes fun at things and people that were previously held sacrosanct, like the former Vice-President Richard Nixon, and instead of the suggested polkas he plays the kind of music he thinks the troops on the ground in ‘Nam REALLY want to hear. Loud, sexy rock ‘n’ roll turned up full blast, in other words…!
The fantastic soundtrack has songs from James Brown, The Beach Boys, Them, Louis Armstrong and Martha and the Vandellas on it and it perfectly captures the wild and rebellious spirit of the ‘Sixties. SPIRIT OF THE ‘SIXTIES… That’d make a great title for a compilation album, haha. As Homer Simpson might and, I think, did actually say once: ‘Mmmm, turbulent…!’
The funniest bits of the movie are when the unorthodox and outspoken Cronauer clashes with the Establishment, which is pretty much all the way through the film so you’re in luck! Robin Williams has some excellent support from Forest Whitaker as the soldier who really believes in him and would even kind of like to be him and also from Bruno Kirby as Second Lieutenant Steven Hauk.
Hauk desperately wants to be funny but, unfortunately for him, he’s about as funny as herpes on your wedding night…! Hauk’s underling Private Abersold, who’s basically Wayland Smithers to his Mr. Burns, is funny without meaning to be. Their double act is actually pretty hilarious.
My favourite funny character in the film, though, apart from Cronauer himself, is Jimmy Wah, the Vietnamese café-bar owner who’s ‘a little light in the loafers’ (is this the first film to coin this phrase, by the way?) and who’ll give you a free salad if you get near-fatal food poisoning in his restaurant. Goddammit, people, you cannot say fairer than that…!
Being typically female, I haven’t mentioned the war as such as I prefer the clashes within the radio-station itself. Oddly enough, as I am a typical female, I didn’t much care for the love story between Cronauer and the Vietnamese girl Trinh either, even though I normally live for the love story in war films. (In case the war bits are boring, see?) Their ‘love’ seemed a bit contrived and tacked-on and Trinh’s kind of mopey and annoying and without much personality. Yeah, yeah, I know. Miaow…!
Any-hoo, I kind of felt like those bits were a waste of time and the film-makers might have been better off fitting in a few more of Robin Williams’s rapid-fire comedy monologues instead. Mind you, those are actually soooo quickfire that they leave you worn out, like a wet dishcloth that’s been wrung out and then hung out to dry, haha. Oh, and you’ll enjoy Robin Williams teaching colloquial New Yorkisms like ‘flipping the bird’ to a classroom full of Vietnamese people, those bits are great!
One thing that Adrian Cronauer is constantly being asked to do in this film is to ‘be funny.’ Just like that, like clicking a switch on and off. ‘Be funny.’ I could perfectly well imagine people in Robin Williams’s real, everyday life having maybe demanded the same thing of the star whom we now know frequently didn’t feel terribly ‘funny’ at all in his real life.
It made me think about how hard it must be to be a ‘funny’ guy (or gal) who kind of feels like they’re dying inside. Think of the pressure there’d be on you all the time to entertain people, to ‘be funny’ for them even when being funny is the last thing you feel like doing. I guess that’s where the whole thing of the ‘sad clown’ comes from.
Poor old Robin Williams. He certainly deserved to be happy after all the happiness he brought to his legions of fans, and especially in this multi-award-winning film. Too many awards to enumerate, so look ’em up if you want…!
Anyway, speaking of pressure, there’s some major pressure on me now to sign off in a funny way so, um, I think I’ll leave you with, um, er, cheerio for now, Dublin and, um, the Internet. Ah, what the hell. Let’s bloody well go for it, movie buddies. All together now:
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING VIETNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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