Play Pause

Friday, 16 December 2016

Retro Movie Review: Patch Adams (1998) #RobinWilliams

Patch Adams
Cast: Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Monica Potter, Michael Jeter 
Genre: Semi-Biographical Comedy Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $200 million

Plot: Meet Hunter Patch Adams, a doctor who doesn't look, act or think like a doctor you've met before. For Patch, humour is the best medicine, and he's willing to do just about anything to make his patients laugh - even if it means risking his own career 

'Tugs At The Heart Strings, Patch Adams Is A Well-Meaning & Engaging Film'

I think any review of this film would involve a comparison with Awakenings, as they both share certain similarities: both films are set in a hospital, both films have Robin Williams playing doctors, both films have doctors that exist in real life (Malcolm Sayer for Awakenings, Patch Adams for Patch Adams), both films are also sentimental dramas, and whilst I still gravitate more towards Penny Marshall's 1990 effort, Tom Shaydoc's offering is also a well-meaning, good-hearted film about a doctor who goes out of his way to help those who are sick and ill. 

Robin Williams is Hunter Patch Adams: a guy who goes to work at a hospital with severely ill patients and whereby doctors have done little to improve their quality of life and/or condition. For Patch, however, laughter, happiness, goodness and humour is the best medicine and his solution to the problem. And so he uses humour to make patients lives easier. 

1998's follow-up to the ghastly What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams is also unlike Awakenings in that it definitely has that comedic tone, although Robin Williams still plays it straight. With the backstory of Patch Adams being rather, well a bit strange and the director of Eddie Murphy's version of The Nutty Professor on board, one may think we will get an outlandish comedy set in a hospital. The film is based on the book, ''Gesundheit: Good Health is a Laughing Matter'' and on the actual events of Patch Adams, who founded the Gesundheit clinic. The film follows Patch's rise from a mental institution as a patient to a medical school, where he later becomes a doctor and gets to use more unorthodox methods in treating patients. The story didn't grab me straight away that the former did and the meaning of life did touch more upon the religious aspect of this film, which I didn't care much for.

Williams himself gives a very extroverted - and all too well familiar performance, utilising his comedic and improvisational comedy skills - although in my eyes, he did it better as physician, Malcolm Sayer in Awakenings, because to me, that role felt more natural, believable and that he had to subsume in the role and put aside his funny shenanigans. That, and it had the better screenplay. Patch Adams feels more like Awakenings meets a part of Dead Poets Society meets a part of Good Morning, Vietnam: it's a fish- out- of- water tale with a new doctor moving to a new hospital and who changes things up and shocks traditionalists and the establishment with his newfound ways. Plus, because of the way it looks on screen, it is more glamourised and has an even more mainstream, lighter feel than Awakenings. The film also cuts corners with regards to simplifying scenarios and having a more sentimental and preachy feel; however, the heart of this film remains strong, thanks to Robin Williams's performance, which holds it together. And the drama and narrative, whilst it is not complex or very taxing, still manages to be engaging and entertaining. 

Like many of his movies, but more through his films from the 1980s and 1990s, there is a social commentary or some kind of emotional purity that is evoked through and that many of Robin's onscreen characters do display sentimental or emotional aspects of their personalities. And yet these aspects are more than often overlooked because audiences choose to focus and concentrate more on his wacky, at times offbeat and funny demeanour. And see Robin more as a comedian and a person who makes us laugh. And here, this is also the case with Patch Adams. The humour doesn't detract from the screenplay, whereas the sentimentality aspect here is not as tooth-rotting as I'd expected and thought it would be, and is one that I was able to tolerate and handle from beginning to end. 

Robin Williams does his usually funny guy routine but here, it is very endearing and also restrained: it's entertaining yet never overwhelming, nor does he overdo it and it is balanced rather well with his dramatic acting. He shines through in his physical and improv humour as the so-called clown, trying to cheer up his patients, but the bigwigs at the top are not happy and are unimpressed by Patch's noble efforts, and sees him mocking the medical profession. 

Some critics, notably one of Gene Siskel of Siskel and Ebert didn't feel that Robin should have been cast in the title role: this is (or was) a real doctor who makes patients and people laugh, using balloons and all manner of items. So, therefore, Siskel was wrong: Robin was and is perfectly cast, as like Patch he uses humour, but in addition, cares and loves people, and is a compassionate person. I couldn't envision any other actor as this character and he truly lived that role. Another criticism that was reserved was that of the inaccurate history or facts that were presented in the film - yet these embellishments were elaborated and it is stated that it is based on a true story. This film existed as entertainment and facts are slightly modified from the book to make it more appealing to audiences. Is this a bad thing? Sort of, (making Patch Adams's friend female when it was originally a male and turning her into a love interest is strange, yet the complaints on that part are understandable) though I guess if the book wasn't all that appealing in the first place - though I wouldn't know as I haven't read it - then the film, if it were to appeal to the masses, had to do things to get their attention. 

One can argue the execution is too simplified and the film does oversimplify things & is a bit too emotive, it does take away from the intrigue which is sort of underplayed and the depth isn't there throughout. But that simplification and the film being basic in its delivery didn't bother me. Thus, the simpler it is, the easier it is to follow I say.   

The supporting players, however, aren't given enough screen time to develop fully and as such, they are written and portrayed in a way that I didn't care for them. Again, with so many of his films, but for Hook, Awakenings, The Birdcage, this is a Robin Williams film that was built around his performance, and less so on Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Monica Potter and others. 

I think the point Patch Adams, as in the film, was trying to make was that it was merely pointing out that the medical profession is very set in its ways, insofar as doing certain things and going about treating patients and that Patch wanted to show to them that it doesn't necessarily have to be like that, all the time and that they can embrace different methods and give people the quality of life they deserve. In doing so, it involves the audience in seeing things from Patch's perspective and through his plight. 

Favourite Robin Williams Character Lines

- You're focusing on the problem. If you focus on the problem, you can't see the solution

- You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you'll win, no matter what the outcome


Pros +

- Thought-provoking, compelling and well-meaning dramedy

- Another terrific, yet endearing performance by Robin Williams 

- Good balance between humour and drama

- Film has a good message attached to it, as well as good intentions 

Cons -

- Not necessary to have foul language and the nudity scenes seem out of place 

- Some may question some of the authenticity of Patch's methods or the story's events depicted in the film

- Supporting characters are mostly forgettable

- Can get a little too preachy & there isn't much depth

Final Verdict:

Before I saw this film, I was reading so many reviews and comments that this film was really sappy, saccharine-filled mawkish nonsense, with Robin Williams as Patch Adams overdoing it with the sentimentality. In watching it, I can see where the arguments about its manipulation and schmaltz levels lie and they do hold a lot of weight. As for Patch, this is a character that experiences a transformation through his duty as a doctor, for his personal success, as well as to benefit others. 

This is a very well-meaning, tender and sentimental comedy-drama with a truly good performance by Robin Williams, thus showing his versatility as an actor. One minute he is goofing around, smiling and having a laugh, and the next, his emotional sentiments are played out in full. It functions more as a dramedy, rather than a fully-fledged comedy that is multilayered and has a message full of hope, inspiration with a very deep poignancy that some may find it is too grating, yet with others, it is very heartwarming and encouraging. 

Whilst others may find this film manipulative in many ways, too simplistic as well as being not as gritty and hard-hitting as they'd expected, which is understandable & too overly religious for my tastes, for me anyway I still found Patch Adams thoroughly enjoyable. Is it the better film compared to Awakenings? No. Do I prefer it over What Dreams May Come? Without a doubt. 

Amusing, but mainly poignant, inspiring, uplifting and with some really touching and compassionate moments, this is another effort from Robin Williams that, in spite of its flaws, was right up my alley from his best- ever and my favourite decade of his, film-wise from the 1990s. 


Amazon Button (via

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...