Patch Adams Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

Robin Williams
You treat a disease, you win you lose. If you treat the patient, I guarantee that you'll always win.

Just in time for the holidays comes "Patch Adams", the heartwarming and poignant true story of Hunter 'Patch' Adams, a doctor afflicted with 'excessive happiness'. Institutionalized for depression during the early Sixties, Patch (played by Robin Williams of "What Dreams May Come") was inspired to become a doctor, though not by the indifferent doctors responsible for his care. Instead, he discovered a profound sense of purpose in helping his fellow patients overcome their own problems. With this new direction in his life, he attended the University of Virginia medical school in 1969 and eventually went on to form the Gesundheit Institute, an unconventional medical clinic aimed at providing personalized and compassionate care open to all.

Our job here is to ruthlessly drain the humanity out of you and make something better out of you... we're going to make you doctors.
Monica Potter

The bulk of the film takes place during Patch's time in medical school, where he finds his philosophy of 'treating the patient' at odds with that of his colleagues and teachers, who choose to focus on 'treating the disease' instead. His highly critical roommate Mitch (Philip Seymour Hoffman of "The Big Lebowski"), who is under enormous pressure to succeed, believes that Patch is a buffoon who has no business being in medical school among the 'real' students. Dean Walcott (Bob Gunton of "Broken Arrow") sees Patch as a troublemaker, and becomes increasingly displeased with his offbeat antics, which include clowning around with children in the cancer ward and injecting humor into the staid and stuffy surroundings.

What are you doing here? If you want to be a clown, go join the circus!

Fortunately, Patch does manage to find a couple of allies in his quest to return humanity into the cold and indifferent doctor-patient relationship. The shy and sheltered Truman (Daniel London) becomes inspired by Patch's willingness to buck the system and to do the unexpected. The emotionally-vulnerable Carin (Monica Potter of "Con Air"), on the other hand, initially rejects Patch's over-the-top frankness and tries to keep all the relationships in her life, both professional and personal, at a distance. However, Patch's contagious enthusiasm eventually melts away Carin's icy cold facade, and she ends up becoming inspired by the kindness and sincerity of his actions.

Like so many brilliant people, you think that the rules don't apply to you.
Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Unfortunately, Patch soon learns that the road to Hell is certainly paved with good intentions, with his off-the-wall antics falling under the scrutiny of the school's more conservative elements. In addition to being threatened with expulsion for allegations of cheating and behavior unbecoming of the profession, Patch begins to question his own idealism and reckless disregard of the rules when he is faced with tragic consequences resulting from his own actions.

We have to learn to treat the patient, and not just the condition.
Williams and Daniel London

"Patch Adams" is the fourth film directed by Tom Shadyac, whose previous films included the low-brow "Ace Venture: Pet Detective", "Liar Liar", and "The Nutty Professor". With this latest film, Shadyac brought on board his long-time collaborator, screenwriter Steve Oedekerk (who directed "Nothing to Lose"), and together they have put together a decidedly more serious dramatic effort. However, remaining true to their roots, "Patch Adams" is also extensively laced with humor, which is a good fit considering the real Patch Adam's reputation for off-the-wall antics. Compared to an earlier film that tackled a similar subject, 1991's "The Doctor" which starred William Hurt as a doctor who gets a taste of his own medicine, this take on the issue is certainly livelier and engaging. Technically, Shadyac's direction is competent, though he has a tendency to frame his shots conservatively, as though "Patch Adams" was a made-for-TV movie. But it is a minor quibble in an otherwise exceptional film.

Williams and the real Hunter 'Patch' Adams


See what everyone else chooses not to see.

Robin Williams, known for both his dramatic work (including his Oscar-winning performance in "Good Will Hunting") and his deranged brand of stream-of-consciousness humor, is perfectly cast as Patch Adams, capturing both the sincerity and sense of humor required for the role. The supporting cast is also strong, including Potter as a woman who gradually lets her emotional barriers down, Hoffman as a student who believes that 'being a prick is the only way to get things done', and Gunton as the villlainous Dean who refuses to see things in from a different perspective.

"Patch Adams" has generated quite a buzz at all the film festivals it has played at so far, and the reasons why are clear. Buoyed by the winning performance of Williams, it pushes all the right buttons with its pro-individualist stance and crowd-pleasing execution. If you're looking for a film that captures the holiday spirit, look no further... this is it.

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.

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