It’s been four years since Robin Williams’s death by suicide in 2014.
However, his legacy and influence continue to resonate with fans of his work. HBO just premiered a documentary on Williams entitled Come Inside My Mind. You can read my review of the documentary here. This past May, New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff published Robin, a 500-page biography of Williams presenting a far fuller, and even darker, view of the comedian’s life, and particularly his early years.
Has it Really Been Four Years?
His demise and the outpouring of grief that followed profoundly underscored how much people loved Robin Williams. His fan base and celebrity status transcended any one particular demographic or genre of entertainment. I admit I was shocked by just how much time has passed since his death. It certainly doesn’t feel like four years. I think it’s because many fans have continued to mourn his death and still feel his absence.
Come Inside My Mind doesn’t have enough time to explore Williams’s entire filmography. The Oscar-winning actor had an impressive and expansive run in film.
But with a career spanning five decades and sixty-plus films, what is Robin Williams’s best movie?
That’s too tough and subjective a question to tackle, so instead, I’m copping out and tackling the less taxing question: what is my favorite Robin Williams film? Cast your vote below and see how it compares to my take.
My Vote for “Favorite Robin Williams Movie” — Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
There’s no contest for me. My favorite Robin Williams film is 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam.
Directed by Barry Levinson and co-starring Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby, Robert Wuhl, and J.T. Walsh, Good Morning Vietnam was Williams’s first success in film both commercially and critically. It was also the perfect amalgamation of Williams’s manic humor and heartwarming humanity, as his wisecracking character Adrian Cronauer was exposed to the horrors and the brutal dehumanization of war.
While it is unquestionably my favorite movie of Robin Williams, I also happen to think it is his best film. I don’t think Williams would have gone on to his other cinematic highs of Aladdin (1992), Dead Poet’s Society (1989), or Good Will Hunting (1998), without first exhibiting his perfect balance of improvisational humor and dramatic composition in this film.
The Horrors of War and the Need for Laughter
Williams’s Adrian Cronauer (who was a real-life military DJ — read about him here) undergoes one of the greatest character arcs in all of his films. Cronauer starts off in the film as a wise-cracking, anti-authority maverick who is a barrel of laughs but can be a pain in the ass to the uptight “by the book” authority figures, played by the late Bruno Kirby and the late J.T. Walsh. Unlike many of the other characters in the film, Cronauer takes the opportunity to connect with the local Vietnamese people.
Good Morning Vietnam holds a special place in my heart because I remember it being the first film to show both American soldiers and the Vietnamese people in complex, complicated terms.
There are many classic war films about the Vietnam conflict (The Deer Hunter (1978), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987)), but many of them dehumanize the Vietnamese people or make them anonymous casualties caught in the crossfire. Good Morning Vietnam showed Cronauer attempting to woo a young woman, befriend her brother, teach an English class to the local Vietnamese people, and develop true feelings for them.
It is Cronauer’s exposure to the horrors of war that awakens his consciousness while adding gravitas and purpose to his humor. In one standout scene, Cronauer, ambivalent about returning to the airwaves, happens upon a convoy of soldiers. After some poking and prodding, he unleashes his standup humor to the group, who are in desperate need of laughter and levity.
At that moment, Cronauer (and maybe Williams) discovers a sense of humanity and purpose behind his humor. A joke is no longer made simply for a cheap laugh. He serves by providing the soldiers with the gift of laughter. Williams himself would serve in this way, participating in many USO shows for the men and women serving overseas.
All-Time Great Soundtrack
I ultimately memorized most of Williams’s radio performance from the film, as a significant portion of it was included on the official movie soundtrack alongside the classic songs of the sixties. I consider the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack to be one of the greatest soundtracks of all films. It is not just the songs themselves that do it for me, but the marriage of music and scenery painted in the film. The high point has to be Louis B. Armstrong’s Wonderful World played against the backdrop of war, violence, and aggressive protest. The scene perfectly encapsulates the horror and the compassion on full display in Good Morning Vietnam.
William’s cinematic career was just beginning in 1987. He would go on to create iconic roles in many films, including Jumanji (1995), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), and What Dreams May Come (1998), but in my opinion, nothing he did afterward ever climbed the heights he achieved as Adrian Cronauer.
Good Morning Vietnam would go on to earn critical ravings and score William his first Oscar nomination. He won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical. Williams also won the Grammy for Best Comedy Recording from Good Morning Vietnam.