Medical Film Review : Patch Adams (True Story)


Patch Adams
Genre: Comedy, Drama,
Duration: 1 hr. 50 min.
Starring: Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Bob Gunton, Peter Coyote, Daniel London,
Director: Tom Shadyac.
Producer: Mike Farrell, Charles J. Newirth, Barry Kemp, Marvin Minoff and Michael Farrell.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: December 25, 1998
Writer: Steve Oedekerk.

The true story of Patch Adams, an aspiring doctor in the 1970’s who attempted to treat his patients with a medicine that modern science had totally disregarded: humor. While his patients and fellow staff members appreciated and admired his approach, the powers-that-be frowned upon his ‘unschooled’ methods and did their best to keep him from prescribing giggles and laughs as a remedy for malaises.

Movie Reviews:

by: Steve Rhodes
“It is our mission to ruthlessly train the humanity out of you and make you something better,” Dean Walcott (Bob Gunton) lectures his new medical students. “We’re going to make doctors out of you.” To those of you who believe that a medical school dean would actually brag at orientation that his school’s goal is to train the humanity out of its students, this movie should be dedicated.

Although based on a true story, as the movie reminds us, the preachy and overlong film stretches credulity at every turn. Robin Williams, at his worst as Hunter “Patch” Adams, plays a man who late in life decides to go to medical school so he can “connect” with people. Spending his time making jokes in order to help his desperately sick patients, he never studies yet manages to make almost the best grades in the entire class.

As directed by Tom Shadyac and written by Steve Oedekerk, who worked together on the recent remake of THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, the movie should come complete with two warnings. First, the FDA should serve notice to the audience. Although the agency knows that the ingestion of large quantities of artificial sweeteners can kill lab rats, the effect on audiences of such a sickeningly sweet script have not been tested.

Second, parents should be on notice that the film, quite unlike its happy trailers, is full of death and dying. We have patients shown in the final spasms of death, dying before our eyes. The realism is more than one might expect from the film’s marketing and its PG-13 rating. Parents, as they did in the foul-mouthed THE NUTTY PROFESSOR by the same team, may find some of the humor and language questionable for preteens. Jokes about masturbation and gynecologist’s stirrups are just a few of the movie’s questionable inclusions that may surprise parents expecting lighter fare.

Patch is a philosopher who constantly treats us to his schmaltzy theories. The syrupy script feeds him lines that sound more like readings than conversations. (“If we want to be a doctor, we must treat the patient as well as the disease.”) The nefarious dean gets the worst of the cliched lines. (“Patients don’t need to be entertained! Patients don’t need a friend! They need a doctor!”)

The movie, heavy on messages, has as a basic theme that it isn’t the drugs and the operations that will save your life. What you need is a feel-good doctor. And if he doesn’t cure you, at least you’ll die a little bit happier.

Putting bedpans on his head and feet, Patch dances around the room to cheer up a group of desperately ill children. These bald, cancer-stricken kids are genuine and cute, the only such characters in the story.

The movie lets Robin cut up for no reason other than getting some cheap laughs. He impersonates a beef producer at a convention. At the podium, he shouts “Eat cow!” to the cheering audience of conventioneers. What — you may ask — is this scene doing in this movie?

Robin Williams is a comedic genius but one who is desperate need of a stronger-willed agent, an agent who will insist Williams avoid films like PATCH ADAMS and FATHER’S DAY.

The manipulative story ends in a tearjerker followed by the canonical, big confrontation scene in which Patch takes on the medical establishment. Going up against a large board of old fogies who look like they are conducting the Spanish Inquisition, Patch lectures them pedantically on the precise meaning of the word “doctor.” Want to place any bets on the winner?

Movies like PATCH ADAMS need aids to help you through it. When you have trouble falling asleep, you count sheep. In order to stay awake in PATCH ADAMS, try to count the number of outlandish shirts Patch wears. It almost seems that he manages to wear more shirts than there are scenes in the movie. There may be other survival tricks, but, hopefully, this one will suffice.

PATCH ADAMS runs too long at 1:55. It is rated PG-13 for frightening scenes of death and dying, profanity and crude humor and would be acceptable for kids over 12. (We took two 9 year olds expecting a film more like the trailer.)

My son Jeffrey, age 9, was bored and upset by the film, giving it only * ½. He liked some of the humor such as the invisible squirrels’ scene. He didn’t like the “bad words” and complained that the movie was way too sad. His friend Alan, age 9, liked the way the film was “funny and disgusting” but thought it was too sad. He generously gave it ***.

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