Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Patch Adams – Robin Williams Trots Out the Same Persona Again

Written by Patch Adams, Maureen Mylander, and Steve Oedekerk
Directed by Tom Shadyac

I have always liked Robin Willaims as an actor, truly I have. He has been in so many good roles in his career and has done some excellent stand-up work as well. The problem is that too many of the roles he chooses really don’t challenge him. Instead, he seems to draw on the same character again and again throughout the films he’s in.

In Patch Adams, Robin Williams is Hunter “Patch” Adams. He checks himself into a psychiatric hospital and soon is troubled by how he and the other patients are treated. His roommate screams in fear over things that aren’t there while being ignored. The psychiatrist Patch visits sits behind a desk but doesn’t really pay attention to what he’s saying. All of this inspires Patch to want to help people with what he sees as missing.

So Patch is off to medical school. In typical Robin Williams fashion, he turns the school upside-down. It’s the 1970s and he’s the oldest student there to start with. He tries to connect with the patients and fights against the rules against becoming emotionally involved with the patients. He has a few close friends and a girlfriend, Corinne (portrayed by Monica Potter). He doesn’t get along with his roommate, Mitch (portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman).

The problem is, although it’s based on a true story, Patch Adams is not original. It’s been done before.

It’s been done before by Robin Williams.

It’s been done before multiple times by Robin Williams.

Patch Adams, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Dead Poets Society are all similar. Robin Williams is the central character that comes in and breaks the mold of what’s expected and challenges authority. He skirts the rules and grows in popularity. Then a tragedy occurs which makes him re-think all that he’s been doing. And in the end, he leaves with his pride intact.

I really liked the extra on the DVD showing the real Patch Adams talking about the movie and his book and how all the events shown in the movie are things that happened to him, albeit not in the time period condensed for the film. Because, if I hadn’t seen that, I would have sworn they’d just dusted off one of those other scripts and said “now let’s set this at a medical college…”

Robin Williams is Robin Williams. If you’ve seen any of those other films, then you know what he’s like. His wacky monologues are in front of seriously ill patients this time. I can understand wanting a different setting for these people than the feeling of “waiting to die”, especially the cancer patients. The problem is that I would have loved to have seen some other actor tackle it so that maybe the character seemed different than his other roles, and perhaps a little more genuine. I don’t blame that on either Williams or the script, it’s just the unfortunate effect of taking too many of the same roles.

There’s also the problem of the lack of chemistry between Williams and Potter. He’s got twenty years on her, and it shows. Ten years maybe would have been all right, but it seemed at times as if she were almost uncomfortable with the role. In addition, she’s trying to portray Corinne as a woman in medical school at a time when there weren’t that many attending just yet. Therefore she must be taken seriously. She’s an easy mark for Patch’s irreverence but I never really saw him breaking through the walls she had put up around her and the two of them really having a romance. It seemed as if their relationship was all talk but it didn’t seem like there was genuine feeling between the two.

There’s hardly anything Philip Seymour Hoffman does that I don’t like and he’s a supporting player here but a pivotal one. His role was maybe the best one in the movie just because he seemed to be the most genuine.

Many of the pediatric patients in the hospital were portrayed by actual children from the Make a Wish Foundation who were given this chance to appear in a film. I give a lot of credit to Director Tom Shadyac and Robin Williams for working with them and giving them such joy.

If you really want to know about Patch Adams and his Gesundheidt Institute, I would suggest picking up one of his books and checking it out. Otherwise, the movie is a miss for me just because it is all too familiar. The main plus is how those kids being in the film was a dream come true for them. For that reason, I can’t not recommend it. See, I’m a soft touch.


” The Medicinal Value of Laughter
” Feature Commentary with Director Tom Shadyac
” Outtakes

5 replies »

  1. I think the difference between Robin Williams and, say, Harrison Ford is that Williams (as talented and intelligent as he was) didn’t bother “stretching” as an actor much and did the same shtick in different movies under so many different directors.

    You could try and make an argument that Ford also plays similar characters in a lot of films, but there are a lot of differences between, say, Jack Ryan and Han Solo, or Henry Turner and John Book. They’re all Ford-type characters, but he gives each one a certain nuance that makes them individuals.

    I think my basic issue with Williams is that he was “on” all the time as Robin Williams doing a routine rather than doing true acting.

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