By Dominic Lebron
ENC 1102, Class no. 1149
"Patch Adams" is the story of a man who, in the search of meaning for his own life, finds a way to show meaning to countless others as well. Through the use of unconventional, and sometimes downright absurd, practices, Hunter "Patch" Adams, portrayed by Robin Williams, teaches doctors, nurses, and patients that laughter can often be the best medicine. His deep care for patients, especially those who have no health insurance and cannot afford care, leads him to build a hospital of his own, where no money is charged and no insurance is necessary. Although "Patch Adams" may not provide an accurate background of the doctor for which it was named, this movie captures the ideas of goodness, caring, and laughter, just as was intended.
There is a wide range of critiques of "Patch Adams," the majority of which are quite negative.
Many reviewers criticize the film's exaggeration of the main character's personality and background, while others fault the main idea of the film, challenging that happiness as medicine is an unrealistic premise. Still others bash Robin Williams himself; for over-acting, and for not giving a realistic portrayal of the man after which his character is modeled. But there are a few critics who appreciate the premise and presentation of the movie, applauding the dynamics of the characters and the warm feeling that is left after watching it.
Robin Williams' talents are highly respected throughout the entertainment industry, and for good reason. He has played various roles in numerous successful movies, the most popular of which carry the theme of good versus evil from a humanity standpoint. However popular these films may be, it is apparent that not everyone carries an appreciation for this aspect of Williams and his characters. Paul Tatara, in a review for CNN, shows a downright anger towards the Williams, as well as the film itself, and brings into his argument a few other films in which he claims Williams plays similar roles. "[S]hades of gray don't exist in Robin Williams World, just real mean people and real nice people," according to Tartara, who makes the point that there are more dynamics in life than simply good and evil. Tartara bases his dislike for the film itself on his disbelief in the premise that entertaining people can help them achieve a better quality of life. As his review develops, so does his sarcasm and hatred toward the film. Using statements such as, "Apparently, they teach you how to kill all kinds of nonexistent rodents in medical school," he shows why no one in his or her right mind could possibly enjoy this film.
Another critic whose feelings about this movie loosely match Tartara's is Jeff Millar, of the Houston Chronicle. Millar cites some of the same movies, such as "Good Morning, Vietnam," and "Mrs. Doubtfire" as comparisons to "Patch Adams." In contrast to Tartara, Millar shows respect for Williams' acting abilities, but finds "Patch Adams" itself to be absent of "proper casting and careful oversight," as well as lacking "an adequate screenplay," making it a poor film overall.
Roger Ebert, one of the most popular movie critics in the United States, gives another bashing to the film, citing one example after another as to how the entire story is unrealistic and cannot possibly carry any links to Patch Adams' true biography. Mr. Ebert's take on the main idea is, sarcastically, "They may die, but they'll die laughing." He concludes his review by calling the film "quackery."
Not everyone, however, felt such animosity toward "Patch Adams" as those aforementioned. Peter Stack, of the San Francisco Chronicle, summarizes it as a genuine and heartfelt film, and calling it "a perfect vehicle for Robin Williams." Stack concentrates less on the credibility of the events that take place, and more on the emotional side of the film. His final assessment is that this movie "has enough heart to hit home with anybody who's endured the impersonal side of modern medicine."
Angus Wolfe Murray, of Eye for Film, a U.K. based film review company, agrees with Peter Stack's assessment. "There is something about Williams that encourages compassion and commitment," writes Murray, who appreciates the humanity and emotion that the movie provides. For his argument, Murray keys in on the idea that patients have names and shouldn't be treated as numbers. As to those who criticize the lack of realism in the film, Murray responds, "What's wrong with having a dream and making it happen?"
For all the different opinions of critics, there are only two opinions that really matter. The first is the opinion of those forking over the money to watch the movie. "Patch Adams" finished on top in box office sales in its opening week. Some critics will attribute that to the crafty marketing that stirs the interests of consumers. But if it was a bad movie, word of mouth surely would have knocked it out of the top spot in the second week. Well, that wasn't the case, as the film took top honors again. According to imdb.com, this film earned over 25 million dollars in revenue its first weekend and over 135 million dollars total while in theatres in the U.S. Without a doubt, these statistics prove that the overall reception of this film was excellent.
Finally, it is time to explore the opinion of the man on whom this movie was based. Dr. Patch Adams was asked in an interview by CNN for his opinion of both the movie itself and Robin Williams' portrayal of Adams. To this, Adams' response was this:
"Well, I think I understood Hollywood enough when I entered this contract to know that it wasn't important to get my biography correct. That's not what's important. I mean, that's a people-idea focus. What we're interested in is the idea focus. I think Robin himself is compassion, generosity and funny. I like to think that that's who I am, and so I think he was the only actor I wanted to play me, and I think he did a fabulous job, and my friends around the country are feeling that he gives that basic message."
In the end, it is evident that "Patch Adams" is not only a successful film, but one that met the expectations of its creators and of its subject. Just as Patch Adams himself did, the creators of this movie had a dream and made it happen.
"Review: Sick Humor in 'Patch Adams,'" by Paul Tatara, cnn.com, Jan. 4, 1999
"Patch Adams," by Jeff Millar, Houston Chronicle, 1998
"Patch Adams," by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, December 25, 1998
"Comic Relief," by Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle, December 25, 1998
"Patch Adams," by Angus Wolfe Murray, Eye for Film, 1999
"The Real Dr. Patch Adams Says Gesundheit!," interview by Bill Hemmer with Patch Adams, CNN, December 31, 1998