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Patch Adams

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Patch Adams

Starring: Robin Williams, Monica Potter
Director: Tom Shadyac
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel London, Josef Sommer, Irma P. Hall, Peter Coyote, Michael Jeter

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

Life can be manipulating. Really? Thanks for telling us that. The question is whether it's for bad or good. How many times have you been coaxed by a friend who's twisted your arm to do something you didn't really want to do at first but later on you were glad that you did? What's so bad about that? Politicians manipulate us and later on we're often sorry that we voted for them. Product placement ads on television and the movies manipulate us by planting subliminal thoughts in our heads, enticing us to buy their brand and there are many entertaining advertisements and a lot of stupid ones as well. 'Patch Adams' is easily recognizable as a manipulative film but it feels good and therefore it is good.

Many question the sincerity of the medical community. The true nature of tackling major diseases and curing them raises economical questions rather than ethical ones. A cure for cancer, AIDS and many other diseases means billions of dollars lost for the pharmaceutical companies in existing medications and treatment. 1/7 of the American economy is driven by medicine run as a business rather than as a humanitarian effort and many cannot afford to pay and they die. It's refreshing to see a film that treats medicine with humanity and with delicate grace and humour that can make human suffering a little easier and since its based on a true story, it has even more credibility.

Robin Williams redeems himself in this film after the disappointing 'What Dreams May Come', released earlier this year. Beginning in 1969, Williams plays Hunter Adams, nicknamed 'Patch', a man who brings humanity to his patients by using humour as a treatment for those with fatal diseases and other serious ailments. As the film begins, Adams is a voluntarily patient in a mental institution and finds that he has a positive influence on some seriously catatonic patients and finds he wants more and decides to check himself out of the institution and into medical school. The medical students are driven in the wrong direction by the chief of the medical program (Bob Gunton) who actually tells a group of them in class that he will take the humanity out of them and make doctors out of them! Shame on him!

He meets other medical students who become his close friends and he has a relationship with a female student (Monica Potter) that he's sweet on. The elder instructors feel that Adams' methods are unorthodox as he dresses up in funny clothing, makes jokes and improvises his way through the hospital wards and tries to make the sick and the dying feel better. Adams and his friends open free clinics, take supplies from the wealthy hospital in secret and aren't supposed to see patients at all until the third year and Williams has a clash of ideals that leads to a bumpy road that may prevent him from graduating.

Director Tom Shadyac ('Ace Ventura: Pet Detective', 'Liar Liar') proves he can handle a touching and human story as well as he can a shallow comedic film and while Williams is allowed to invent a lot of his own routines, I think a lot of movie fans will appreciate it as vintage Robin Williams and few have a better balanced career that the one Williams has carved out for himself.

The film is based on the book 'Gesundheit: Good Health Is a Laughing Matter' by Hunter Doherty Adams and Maureen Mylander and is adapted for the screen by Steve Oedekerk who keeps his writing fresh and alive and has some good observations and gives the film social commentary and something that audiences can take home with them and think about. My father doesn't smile much but did so sincerely after seeing this film.

'Patch Adams' is no classic but given the fact that the film will be attacked by many as manipulative, those same people enjoyed and recommended Williams' 1989 film 'Dead Poets Society' which was far more manipulative than this film and 'Dead Poets Society' won an Oscar for its writing!

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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