Not a Patch-ed Up Job
Starring Robin Williams and released back in 1998, "Patch Adams" is another touching movie based upon a true story, that of Hunter 'Patch' Adams whose personal approach to care caused issues with his superiors. Like with many movies inspired by a true story "Patch Adams" appears to have gone through the Hollywood machine to create a fictionalised account of the true story, in doing so glossing over some of the less appealing aspects and delivering a slightly too sweet but still engaging movie. But whilst being fictionalised it is hard to ignore the brilliant performance of Robin Williams as Hunter 'Patch' Adams and his very funny way of treating the sick.
Having institutionalised himself with suicidal depression, Hunter 'Patch' Adams (Robin Williams - Good Morning, Vietnam) discover his real calling in life when his ability to make the other patients laugh helps lift them from their own depressed states. Having left the institution and enrolled at a medical institution in the dream of becoming a doctor, he soon realises that the staid, impersonal approach of his tutors is not what he wants. Trying the patience of his superiors as he brings his own brand of anarchic humour to the hospital wards, it looks likely that he will never be allowed to qualify as a doctor and fulfil his dream.
The main storyline of "Patch Adams" is based upon the true story of Hunter 'Patch' Adams who discovered that by making people laugh he could aid their recovery from illness. Tie this into the story of his struggle to not only be accepted as a recognized doctor but also his rather different form of treatment and you have an enjoyable and engaging drama which whilst not overly complex has enough going on from its various threads to keep you interested. In some ways it has a strong resemblance to the formulaic under dog story which Hollywood often favours, but never tries to push your buttons like many of these movies attempt to do. It just seems to coast along at a pleasant pace allowing you to become involved in Patch's plight and dreams.
What is also good is that for a movie which revolves around the world of the medical profession it never bogs you down with the complexities of the medical language leaving you to enjoy the often humorous and touching dialogue. Unsurprisingly there is a small romantic plotline to the movie, which although the premise of it is by no means contrived some of the scenes do feel like the writers have pushed the boundaries of believability a touch too far.
What is very apparent about "Patch Adams" is that it is full of humour, some from the often humorous dialogue but mostly from some wonderful visual gags. Unlike many movies which rely solely on the humour "Patch Adams" manages to incorporate it without it detracting from the enjoyable story. Right from the opening section where we see Patch enter the mental institution it manages to provide some brilliant jokes, such as when he is being interviewed by a psychiatrist and realising that he is not being listened to just starts taking the mickey out of the nonsense questions. It is also brilliant to watch the writers use one of the patient's illnesses as a joke without feeling like they were being derogatory to the person; in fact they turn the situation round to humiliate the medical profession.
This combination of effective plot and humour really does work well and whilst at times "Patch Adams" does feel a little sickly sweet it manages to be engaging on both fronts to keep the audience happy. It is also very apparent that the movie shifts focus about halfway though with the first half focussing heavily on the comedy aspect of the movie and the second being more dramatic. This change of focus is an effective transition which goes unnoticed until you start looking at the movie from a technical aspect.
If ever an actor was destined to play a part it is Robin Williams taking on the medical coat of Hunter 'Patch' Adams. In a return to his anti-establishment type of humour which he demonstrated so well in "Good Morning Vietnam", Williams puts in one of his most enjoyable performances in years. Whilst he seems to have been give permission to ad-lib and generally go to town with the jokes, you can certainly feel that he manages to restrain himself where necessary so not to spoil the emotional feel of the movie. Although at times it was hard to disassociate the actor from the character, his ability to combine humour with a thoroughly engaging dramatic performance is worth watching on its own.
To be honest "Patch Adams" is all about Patch and so mainly focuses on his character, but supporting Williams are some brilliant performances from the likes of Daniel London as his best friend Truman Schiff and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a fellow medical student who pours scorn on Patch's wild antics. There is also a thoroughly enjoyable but small performance from Michael Jeter as a mental patient who Patch helps conquer his fear in the memorable invisible squirrels scene.
When I realised that Tom Shadyac was the director on "Patch Adams" I was quite surprised as prior to this Shadyac was better known for more over the top comedies such as "Ace Ventura" and the "Nutty Professor". It is testament to his ability as a director that he has made a movie which whilst is still hugely funny manages to stay focussed on telling what is quite an emotional story. You get a real sense that both Shadyac and Williams felt very attached to the story of Hunter 'Patch' Adams and went that extra mile to not spoil the essence of it.
What this all boils down to is that although this is based on a true story, "Patch Adams" lacks the grit and realism of other movies such as "The Pursuit of Happyness" but this is in fact not a criticism but praise as it makes for a very enjoyable movie which still manages to tug at your heart strings. With a good mix of humour and plot, "Patch Adams" manages to captivate the audience as it involves them in the plight of Hunter 'Patch' Adams as he tries to achieve his dream despite personal heart ache. Praise definitely goes to Robin Williams who is at his best with the anarchic comedy but also in providing real emotion in the more serious scenes. Whilst some people may be disappointed that this is not a gritty interpretation of the story, I personally find it an enjoyable change from sometimes overly realistic dramas, one which I would completely recommend.