Sunday, November 20, 2011

AFI's 100 YEARS...100 LAUGHS (2000)

Denice and I just finished watching every movie on the American Film Institutes's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIES (1998).  I am not really sure when we began this odyssey but I am sure it was not in 1998.  Denice and I decided to start by watching film 100 and working our way up to #1, Citizen Kane. 

One of the most impressive things about working our way through the list was that we had not seen all the films on the list prior to this adventure.  Plus, of course--this is a list of really great movies to watch.

At the same time we decided to use another set of lists, AFI's 100 YEARS...100 STARS (1999), to work our way through all the stars on this list.  So far we have watched all the films that we could get our hands on from the archives of Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney on the male side and Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis on the female side. 

Currently we are working our way through the films of Cary Grant

and Audrey Hepburn. 

Now we are starting our way through the next list, AFI's 100 YEARS...100 LAUGHS (2000). 

The first title on the list, again working from back to front, is #100, Good Morning, Vietnam.  As with all lists, there are always those who have issues and I have issues with this movie.

Having grown up through the period of Vietnam and having watched our nation sink all of its money into wars that lead nowhere, it is painful to me to watch this movie.  While watching this film, I could not help but be uncomfortable when the old pattern is repeated:  Americans arrive to solve what ever problem is perceived to be the issue in a foreign country, trample all over the customs and culture of that nation, make a hash of everything, insult all the women because we refuse to understand local rituals and customs, and then leave with our tails between our legs having made the nation worse off for our presence and better off after our absence. 

While I can see that the comedy is important to this movie, for me it cannot distract from the underlying issue which is that the character of Adrian Cronauer has no clue as to the affect he has on his environment.  While we laugh at the rigidity of the military and its inability to harness the raw energy escaping from the dj in his studio, I am not sure we should be laughing so hard at the same irreverent behavior in the English class he teaches in Saigon.  Certainly his Ugly American behavior towards the character of Trinh is disturbing in that he initially has no clue as to his bad behavior and in the end I am not sure he has really learned anything.  In the character's defense, he does begin by making fun of the local language and at the end he does speak a few words of the local language to his students which does show some progress forward from his initial arrogance. 

Now, with all that said, I do want to say that this is a very powerful film.  The cast is wonderful and includes Robert Wuhl and Bruno Kirby.  The hands down cast award goes to Forest Whitaker who manages to develop from a character with no clue to a major player in the game. 

The revelation that Robin Williams could be such a powerful performer in a major motion picture is not affected by time.  He is this move and it is hard to image someone else playing this role.  The weird thing is that the real Adrian Cronauer never did comedy on the air nor did he get kicked out of the military for his behavior despite there being some truth to the fact that he changed military radio broadcasts in Vietnam.  If you want a clue as to the difference between the character played by Robin Williams and the real man, Cronauer is a Republican who worked on the Bush campaign. 

So enjoy the movie for what it is, a powerful dramedy.  Whether it deserves to sit at #100 on this list, I am not sure. 

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