Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Patch Adams

Film #350


A medical student in the 70’s treats patients, illegally, using humor.

Year 1, Day 350

BEFORE: Movie marathon is definitely in the home stretch now. With just a half a month left to go and one last reworking of my schedule, everything from now until the looming June 30 has its time and place. After an extremely wonderful performance last night in Mrs. Doubtfire, I decided to make a chain of Robin Williams films with another comedy, Patch Adams taking today’s slot. Over the next two weeks, expect to see many pairings of films based on lead actors with Matt Damon, Russell Crowe, and Jack Lemmon among others making final appearances for the year.

AFTER: Here’s another serious film that uses laughter and comedy as a way to connect with the viewer. Patch Adams is a heartwarming film about a man, Hunter “Patch” Adams (Robin Williams) who wants nothing more than to help people. And he does this by making people laugh. But that’s just the surface of it. It’s not through humor that Adams helps others, it’s by getting to know them, who they are as people rather than as another patient in a hospital. Humor just happens to be how Adams does this best. As a film, this idea highlights both what’s great, and what’s not so great.

This film is all about connecting with people and one of it’s biggest strength’s is its apparent ability to do so with the viewer. While everything you see is Patch Adams going through medical school and bringing a smile to many people’s faces, both ill and healthy, it’s almost as if you are a patient too. Watching this film, all your troubles seem to fade away and they’re replaced with funny antics as well as caring deeply for these characters and what happens to them. Robin Williams does another fantastic job here and really reminds us of what’s important in life: to enjoy it. The film opens with Adams checking himself into a mental institution after wanting to commit suicide. Later in the film he suffers through other terrible events that cause great grief. This is a man who has seen and been through the worst and yet he still decides to see the good; to put on a smile and try to make others do the same. Williams does this better than anyone else probably could thanks to his usual energy and crazy personality. But as with Mrs. Doubtfire yesterday, here again we see that even people who like to shy away from the serious matters can still focus when it’s required. I’ve long believed in the power of listening; just hearing what others have to say. Patch Adams, while full of talking and antics, is also very much about listening too.

Once again, I’ve seemed to focus solely on one character and his positive effect on the film. This doesn’t mean the supporting cast and other elements of the film aren’t good as well (they are great), they’re just not the most important part about Patch Adams. Likewise, there are several things that hurt the film but I’m only going to focus on one, and that is the tone of the film. As I said earlier, while primarily a comedy, the drama elements really make up a large part of this film too. For the most part, the balance and transition between the two is well done. By the end of the film, we’ve laughed, we’ve grown attached to the characters and can empathize with them. But there are some moments that kind of botch the operation, if you will. The beginning - Adams entering the institution and subsequently entering medical school (the latter half in the institution was fine) - and the penultimate scenes - involving Carin Fisher (Monica Potter) and the post-founding of the Gesundheit! Institute (not Adams’ hearing at the very end) - are a few moments that come to mind. These scenes, while following the story, feel out of place. They should be funny instead of dramatic or vice versa. During these scenes this difference in tone draws you out of the film, removes you from that feeling like your just another one of the people Adams is treating, and places you on the outside looking in. You lose that immersive experience and it’s like your watching just another film.

Patch Adams, while not perfect and distracting at times, is still making it onto my list of favorite films. Robin Williams delivers yet another memorable performance and reminds me why it’s so great to laugh. This film will make you laugh and it will shock you. But most of all it connects with you. Others, like Roger Ebert, think the film is “quackery” and the emotions are forced, crammed into an established formula. Sure, you can question whether or not doctors wearing red rubber noses and clown shoes would actually be good (it probably wouldn’t). But if you go in wanting to laugh, wanting to smile, Patch Adams will help you do that.

RATING: 4 out of 5