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Sunday, 6 May 2018

Retro Movie Review: Patch Adams (1998) #RobinWilliams *reposted with updated score*

Patch Adams
Cast: Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Monica Potter, Michael Jeter 
Genre: Semi-Biographical Comedy Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $200 million
Trivia: Patch Adams was the 5th time Robin Williams portrayed a doctor in the space of 9 years after Awakenings (1990), 9 Months (1995), Good Will Hunting (1997) & What Dreams May Come (1998)

Plot: The true story of a heroic man, Hunter ''Patch'' Adams, determined to become a medical doctor because he enjoys helping people. He ventured where no doctor had ventured before, using humour and pathos

'Emotionally Manipulative With Skewed Facts & Forgettable Support Marred Movie'

So I had to re-watch this one to see If I could empathise with those who found the sentimentality in Patch Adams to be extremely mawkish, the film to be overdoing it with the emotional moments and that based on a true story and skewing some of the facts, it was doing a disservice to the real Patch Adams. 

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.

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; the drama and narrative, whilst it is not complex or very taxing, still manages to entertain and be engaging.

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

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. Robin does well with such middling and maudlin material that he was given, which also feels trite at times.

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. 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). As well as stealing supplies from hospitals, which he'd never done so. 

One can argue the execution is too simplified, which it is 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. Also, the moment when Patch is pushed to the brink of despair after the death of Karen was overdone to the extent to which Shaydoc was really milking the sentimentality, so much so, it made me wince. 

The supporting players 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 enough 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. Potter's turn was nothing that memorable or noteworthy and she just didn't make any real impact or impression, whatsoever. 

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. Yet the way the film, or be it the writer and Tom Shaydoc's direction handle it is just too safe, less practical & so heavy-handed in the emotional sense that it becomes cringe-inducing and too sappy. Along with the manipulation of facts, the film also lacks the honesty and simplicity that is found in Awakenings as Patch Adams opts for the sensationalist mainstream approach. 

This film made over $200 million worldwide compared to just over $52 million for Awakenings domestically in the U.S, - which by taking into consideration, quality-wise Penny Marshall's drama easily dwarfs Patch Adams as a movie in every single aspect. Especially the story and that the film sticks to the facts & doesn't go overboard in the emotional stakes. The only details it changes are the names of Malcolm Sayer in place of the Oliver Sacks and by making him American and the treatment used to cure his patients. 


Pros +

- It was watchable no doubt

- Another endearing performance by Robin Williams 

- Good balance between humour and drama

- Feels looser than Awakenings 

Cons -

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

- Middling material 

- Supporting characters are mostly forgettable

- Gets far too preachy in places & 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 do 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. 

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 watchable. Is it the better film compared to Awakenings? No, it doesn't come close. Do I prefer it over What Dreams May Come? Without a doubt. 

As for where Patch Adams stands for me, now in contrast to most of Robin Williams's other movies, it is okay, but I wouldn't put it in my top 10. 


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