Patch Adams, a dramedy about how how laughter is the best medicine, feels misplaced. The movie intends to be a comedy and a tearjerker and exploits every means necessary to praise its eponymous hero, an obnoxious wannabe doctor who cares for his patients and annoys his superiors.
Patch Adams opens up with its title character (Robin Williams) checking himself in a mental hospital stating that he is suicidal. After discovering that the doctors don’t listen or help him and the patients do, Patch suddenly cheers up, leaves the asylum, and decides to become a doctor.
Two years later Patch enters medical school, which apparently ignores the fact that Patch doesn’t appear to have an education in medicine before. Patch acts as a class clown in the school and becomes friends with a fellow student named Truman (Daniel London) and falls in love with another student named Carin (Monica Potter, expressing almost zero emotion in her role). Patch doesn’t listen to the medical school’s rules and wants to break out. What does Patch believe is the best medicine? Laughter.
Patch Adams is based on a true story and really paints a kind portrait of its hero. The real Patch Adams was critical of the movie, particularly of its portrayal as himself as a comedian and not as a professional doctor and it’s hard not to see why. The fictional Patch Adams jokes his way around, and his comic routine is particularly groan-worthy. In one scene Patch enters a room of children with cancer and then starts dancing around with bedpans on his feet and a rubber nose on his face. I’d be freaked out if I were one of those kids.
Patch’s constant gags are all puerile and obnoxious, less of a character and more like a personified version of Robin Williams, who has played many roles of loud characters. Williams can be strong when given the right role, but can easily cross the line when given a bad one.
But what’s even worse than the unfunny humor are the intended tearjerker scenes. Yes, Patch Adams does not only want the audience laughs, it wants them to cry. Spoilers Alerts following this! Here are a few examples of what the film does for sobs. In one scene, a grumpy patient Patch treated dies right in front of his family. Director Tom Shadyac trumps it up in the most dramatic way possible, sad music and a slow moving shot. But what’s even worse is Carin, who eventually falls over heels for Patch, is murdered by one of Patch’s patients. Killing the love interest is what Patch Adams will do for tears.
The ending of Patch Adams mirrors that of another Robin Williams movie Dead Poet’s Society. Patch is tried in court for running a freelance hospital and defends himself by giving some sort of nonsensical speech about how everyone is a doctor (he doesn’t even answer the question the judge brings up). And before the scene ends, a bunch of the chemotherapy children come to the court with red rubber noses on their faces. This scene is supposed to be sentimental and uplifting but seems completely wrong. Why are these children out of bed? Isn’t anyone worried they could have their immune systems hurt? End of spoilers.
It’s sad really, because the movie stars one of today’s best actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman’s given the role as Patch’s rival or rejects his teachings. He’s easily the best thing about the movie but even he doesn’t prevent it from falling apart.
But Patch Adams is a mess. There’s a good movie to be made about the subject matter but this isn’t it.