Patch Adams (1998)

15 May


Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Patch Adams” is one of the most manipulative films that is said to be “based on a true story.” And it is based on a true story (albeit very loosely)—the life story of Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams. I’ll get to the fact-vs.-fiction aspects later in this review, but to get straight to the point, even if it wasn’t loosely based on the life story of a fascinating individual, I still wouldn’t recommend “Patch Adams.” It’s not only manipulative in the ways of delivering melodrama; it’s forced, obvious, and very clichéd. Its main purpose is to bestow upon movie audiences an emotional tearjerker by using cheap maneuvers.

Robin Williams stars as the title character, Patch Adams. As the movie begins, he is a mental patient in the Fairfax State Psychiatric Ward. During his time there, he finds he is able to help his fellow inmates, and decides to become a medical doctor. When he’s released, he enrolls in the Virginia Medical University, where he is the oldest first-year student, at age 40-something.

But because this is a contrived feel-good melodrama that shows almost every other character as one-dimensional, Patch questions the methods that are being taught that involve emotional detachment from patients. Patch believes that in order to treat a patient’s disease, it’s important for a doctor to reach and connect with the patient. To prove his points, he shows a few students a few methods of his own, such as seeing patients (even though only third-year students are allowed to deal with patients) and pulling all sorts of antics to cheer them up and make them laugh. But of course, while a few fellow students follow him on this, Dean Walcott (Bob Gunton) doesn’t approve of Patch’s “excessive happiness” and seeks to throw him out of medical school.

By the way, I’m not even kidding—that’s literally what he calls Patch’s behavior and his reason for such untraditional behavior.

The depiction of the other doctors in “Patch Adams” is one of the most manipulative parts of the movie. They’re simply plot-tools to make us hate them and like Patch. This movie acts as if bedside manner is nonexistent and there’s apparently no difference between being a doctor and a complete jerk. And this movie also acts as if Patch Adams was the first person to invent such methods as a doctor-patient relationship. OK, I guess it sort of makes sense that emotional detachment keeps some doctors from being too involved to the point where they can’t let themselves go any further with the patient, because of such a relationship. But here’s a tip for the stuck-up jerkoffs in this movie—at least learn the patient’s name for starters.

Patch uses all sorts of tricks and treats to make patients happy. And to be honest, he’s quite good at it. He’s a good clown…but wait a minute! This unstable, out-of-control, “excessively happy” man is supposed to be a doctor? If he really wants to reach people and cheer them up, why doesn’t he just skip the psychiatrist concept or medical doctor angle and just become a clown that is assigned to come to hospitals and bring joy where it’s needed?

Oh wait, I forgot—it’s because, as Patch believes, laughter is the best medicine, so I guess that counts…?

And it doesn’t just stop at the hospital either. His mission is to make everyone around him see things his way by using these same methods. He shows a no-nonsense woman, Carin (Monica Potter), the joys of laughter when using an enema bulb for a red clown nose; he brings his friend, medical student Truman Schiff (Daniel London), with him on his “unorthodox” exercises; and he even builds a giant papier-mâché pair of legs that reach an apex at an entrance for a gynecologists’ convention. (Class act.) Oh, and I’m pretty sure Patch’s stuffy bore of a roommate, Mitch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), will crack a smile once the movie is over.

Robin Williams is fit to play the part, but that really isn’t saying much. That’s because “Patch Adams” is pretty much an ideal example of the “Robin Williams formula” in which Robin Williams plays a quirky free-spirit that is up against the villainous establishment-types, and while he’s rebellious and confident “poet” of a protagonist, he manages to get his way in the end, usually after an obligatory big-speech.

Speaking of which, there is a big-speech. And yes, it takes place in a courtroom. And wouldn’t you believe it—this scene ends on an unbelievably forced, painful note with the child cancer-patients walking into the room with big red clown noses to appeal to the jury that seeks to finish with Patch’s medical career quickly. Give me a break. (And why are all of those kids even out of bed?!)

Now, a word about the real Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams. Despite what this movie would like you to believe for the sake of a typical Hollywood tearjerker, this Patch Adams goes beyond just being a clown. This guy knows what he’s doing. His methods are untraditional in some sense, but always in a way of hard work. And he treats his patients with respect and individuality, compared to the fictional Patch Adams in the movie which pretty just portrays him as more or less…a clown.

But here’s where the fact-vs.-fiction really shoots the movie in the foot—not just with the inaccurate portrayal of a fascinating guy, but also of his friends. In particular, the character of Carin, we all know is there for a romantic love-interest and is simply there to die because that will lead to a crisis that will need to be resolved. Here’s something that maybe you didn’t know—Carin was loosely based on a real person, but she was never romantically interested in Patch in the slightest at all. In fact, Patch had a best friend whose life was lost in a tragic incident just like Carin’s was, but it wasn’t in the same way as was shown here. And if you could believe it, that friend was not a “she,” but a “he.” Why did they change the gender and make the friend into a love-interest for Patch in the movie? Because every feel-good movie needs a relationship and a crisis, so the filmmakers decided to kill two birds with one stone. This movie makes me want to puke.

“Patch Adams” definitely does not earn its corniness or melodrama. It’s so obvious, so clumsy, and such a miscalculation in a “based-on-a-true-story” subgenre if ever I saw one. Do yourselves a favor, and look up the actual Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams. Don’t rely on this movie to tell you about him.

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