Laughter is the best medicine. At least, that is what medical student Patch Adams believes. Based on a real story, and featuring Robin Williams revisiting his comic potential in the title role, PATCH ADAMS provides lots of love and warmth. It also champions Christ-like attitudes and behaviors as it challenges modern medical treatment and impersonal institutes of medicine.
The story of the movie begins in 1969 when Hunter Adams admits himself into a mental institution for suicidal tendencies. He hopes to find treatment to cure his depression, but in the institute, he finds boring, uncaring medical staff, not a good atmosphere for someone who wants to get over their depression. Hunter, however, finds a way to cheer himself up – by helping other inmates through humor and a playful attitude. In one scene, Hunter places a Band-Aid over a hole in a paper coffee cup for one man, and the man calls him “Patch.” Hunter christens himself Patch, checks out of the hospital and checks himself into the fictional medical school, Virginia Medical University, with the goal of helping others.
There, he meets many studious and serious classmates including his roommate Mitch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the beautiful Carin (Monica Potter). Most serious of all is Dean Walcott (Bob Gunton), who becomes threatened by Patch’s antics. Outside of class time, Patch clowns around on the pediatric ward of an adjacent hospital, by telling stories to the sick and dying. Throughout it all, Patch excels in school, but some, including Mitch, believe he is cheating. Dean Walcott tries to expel Patch for a very humorous prank on a visiting group of gynecologists, but a ranking dean allows Patch to stay.
In time, Patch and Carin develop a romance. Carin tells Patch that she has hated men, but now she loves him. Together, with a few other medical students, they decide to open up an unauthorized, non-licensed clinic called the Gesundheit Clinic in West Virginia which treats people with love, laughter, humor, and medicine. When the Virginia Medical School officials discover this, they again try to expel Patch. Throughout it all, an unexpected death occurs, and Patch gets angry with God and almost quits everything, but rediscovers his passion, and continues his medical mission.
PATCH ADAMS is a remarkable and poignant movie, particularly in light of the fact that it was created by the writing/directing team who created the ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE movies. Robin Williams offers some of his best comic performances since ALADDIN. There are various scenes where the director lets him go off on his trademark improvisational routines. It is an award worthy performance, already recognized by a Golden Globe nomination.
The themes of PATCH ADAMS are enduring and true. The movie sees the medical establishment in the early 1970s as a bastion of tradition, snootiness and rigidity and attacks it for being impersonal. Indeed, the red tape of HMOs and modern medicine makes the medical field more and more unfriendly. Thus, the movie argues that medical professionals should establish personal relationships with patients, without compromising their medical diagnoses, of course. It is far more important, the movie says, to actually care for people, get to know them, find out their dreams, and give them humor, than to see them merely as case studies for illnesses.
The filmmakers use Robin Williams’ character to demonstrate these themes. Patch elicits giggles out of cancer-stricken children and a merry heart out of a dying man. He tells the Dean that patients need compassion, no matter their personality or differences. He says, “If you treat the illness, you may win or lose, but if you treat the patient, you always win.” He grants a few patients their last dying wishes including a safari, shooting balloon animals with rubber bands and a bath in a pool of noodles. Throughout it all, he also shows love to a man-hating implied lesbian, a fellow student who decides that she can change to heterosexuality because she trusts in his love. Finally, he makes several biblical references, joins in on a Christian funeral and wrestles with God in prayer after a terrible accident. The movie does include too much foul language, however, even though some of it is mild and exclamatory. Most of the bad language occurs in a few shouting matches between Patch and members of the medical establishment.
In conclusion, although the production quality of the movie suffers from too much background music and some scenes that seem a bit forced and overproduced, PATCH ADAMS nevertheless is a wonderful dramatization of Hunter “Patch” Adams, a real man who is re-making the Gesundheit Clinic right now and has a waiting list of doctors hoping to escape the impersonal world of hospitals and join up. Patch not only is a model doctor but also a fine role model. Laughter can often be the best medicine because joy is a gift from the Holy Spirit – and, love is for neighbors, both sick and well.
Moral, biblical worldview of loving others despite differences & treating people as individuals with a few strong Christian elements including Scripture reading at funeral, sacrifice & prayers; 24 obscenities, many mild, & 3 exclamatory profanities; no violence but implied murder; no sex; no nudity; social drinking; smoking; and, grisly images of cuts & sores, plus disturbing images of cancer patients & people dying.