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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 Greg King
2 stars out of 4

Patch Adams tells the story of a dedicated and unconventional doctor who challenged the traditional wisdom of his teachers and peers. An idealistic medical student, Hunter "Patch" Adams (Robin Williams) believed that doctors should treat the patient as well as the disease. His views brought him into disfavour with the establishment, and he clashed many times with the staid and humourless dean of the medical school (Bob Gunton, best remembered as the sadistic warden from The Shawshank Redemption), who announces that all the humanity will be trained out of them. Adams was a naturally gifted student, which also attracted the ire of his roommate Mitch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who came from a family of doctors and was determined to succeed. He resented Adams' frivolous attitude, which undermined all that he believed in. But it was Adams' ability to strike a chord with the patients that led to him risking his reputation, his career and his future to create an environment in which the patients were happy and temporarily forgot their pain. He eventually set up a free clinic with the help of fellow students Truman (Daniel London) and Carin (a very Julia-Roberts-like Monica Potter), which became known as the Gesundheit Institute. Although Patch Adams is based on a true story, one wonders how many liberties the film makers have taken with the facts to accommodate Williams' normally manic persona. The real Adams was actually a good twenty years younger than Williams, who seems uncomfortably aware that here he is the oldest person on campus. He was only a teenager when he checked himself into an asylum to overcome his suicidal tendencies and discovered his talent for healing people's pain through humour, understanding and compassion.

Patch Adams is meant to be an inspiring and uplifting film, but it is also a horribly saccharine, clichéd and cynically manipulative movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. It is also a tad predictable, and most audiences will probably be able to join the dots of the plot by about midway through. There is the brutal and unexpected death that brings on a crisis, a moment of self doubt in which he questions everything he believes in, and then there is the final vindication. The idealistic, wise-cracking maverick who rails against authority and tradition and becomes an inspirational figure for many along the way has become something of a cliché in Williams' repertoire (think Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets' Society and even Awakenings, etc).

Director Tom Shadyac has previously drawn restrained performances from normally outrageous comics like Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor) and Jim Carrey (Liar Liar), but he seems unable to keep his star on a tight leash here. There are plenty of scenes in which Williams cuts loose with the sort of energy and seemingly improvised humour that audiences love and expect. Dramatically, Williams is also permitted a number of moving and emotional scenes. His outrageous performance dwarfs the otherwise solid work of his co-stars, who find themselves lumbered with one-dimensional, stereotyped characters.

Patch Adams is a film designed to show case the talents of its popular star, and fans will find plenty to admire. Others, not so enamoured of the outrageous Williams, may find the whole thing a vaguely unsatisfactory experience.

Copyright © 2000 Greg King

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