Patch Adams (1998)
Directed by Tom Shadyac
Cast: Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Bob Gunton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Peter Coyote, Irma P. Hall, Ellen Albertini Dow.
1998 110 minutes
Rated: (for profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 14, 1998.
"Patch Adams," is highly reminiscent of the wonderful 1990 film, "Awakenings," also starring Robin Williams. There are many similarities, as well. Both films are based on true stories; they both take place, partially, in 1969; they are both set in a hospital; and they both mix humor and drama. Maybe this is one of the biggest problems with, "Patch Adams," since it is far inferior to, "Awakenings," which felt so much more realistic and honest. That isn't to say that, "Patch Adams," is a bad film, though. Actually, I enjoyed it quite a lot up until the highly disappointing climax.
Robin Williams stars as Patch Adams, a depressed man who, at the start of the film, checks himself into a mental hospital after an attempted suicide. After helping his roommate get over his fear of squirrels, which he imagines have surrounded the room, Patch is suddenly cured, realizing that making others feel better through humor helps his own problems to disappear. Sure enough, two years later, Patch starts a medical school in Virginia, and begins sneaking into the hospital and having fun with all of the patients, some of which are terminally ill. Although he firmly believes that making other people laugh helps them to feel better, the hospital board disagrees, putting his plans of becoming a doctor into jeopardy.
For the majority of its running time, "Patch Adams," was very enjoyable for a number of reasons. The characters were all superbly handled, and written very well. Philip Seymour Hoffman was a standout as Williams' college roommate, who begins to grow envious of him when Patch starts to get some of the highest grades in the class, even though he does not seem to ever study. The character could have been a throwaway role, but Hoffman turns a potentially one-dimensional character into a completely believable person who is very serious about becoming a doctor, and is struggling to get by. Another element I liked in the film was its smooth mixture of comedy and drama. Although often funny, Williams never went overboard as he occasionally does, and there were a few gentle, quiet, and touching moments. A subplot involving the blossoming romance between Williams and a serious pre-med student (Monica Potter) was smartly written, and the payoff caught me totally by surprise, even if its strains at drama, in this respect, came off as slightly obvious.
Before the climax arrived, I liked the movie, but did not love it. The workings of the plot were a little too conventional and predictable for my taste. However, when the ending came, the whole effect of the movie was pretty much ruined. Without giving away what happens, it concluded with a courtroom scene that was so falsely sentimental and cliched that I felt rather betrayed at its severe reaches for cheap melodrama. It was at the point that I knew for a fact how everything was going to end, and it saddened me to think that the screenwriter, Steve Oedekerk, took such an easy way out.
When all is said and done, "Patch Adams," is an earnest attempt at making a film that is both comedic and moving, and as a vehicle for Robin Williams, it is perfect. Williams, along with his last two pictures, "Good Will Hunting," and, "What Dreams May Come," has proven that he is an actor with a lot of range, and doesn't always have to be silly. But coming out of, "Patch Adams," I had this strange feeling that, although based on a true story, the film took extreme liberties in order to construct it into a more managable film for mainstream audiences. This is quite unfortunate, since, "Patch Adams," clearly held so much promise.
©1998 by Dustin Putman