We continue our tribute to Robin Williams in this reprint of a review from VP’s archives.
Rated PG. Running time:1 hour 55 min.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (0-5): 3.5
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine,
but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”
Robin Williams repeats himself again in the role of a medical student rebelling against the rigid, humorless establishment. Based on a true story, the film begins with Patch Adams committed to a mental ward where he discovers the power of laughter to heal. He manages to enroll in a medical school, where at the first lecture Dean Walcott tells the novices that they must shed every ounce of humanity if they are to become good doctors. They must rise above the herd if they are to assume the god-like status and powers that good doctors command. You don’t have to be pricked by a scalpel to realize that this cardboard character will be the villain opposed to the kindly efforts of our hero to bring joy and healing to the downtrodden.
Donning a red rubber douche ball as a nose, Adams soon is making the patients laugh at his outrageous antics and the Dean roar in anger. His laughter-inducing tricks win over the patients and the nurses, but his roommate Mitch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a fellow female student Carin (Monica Potter) withstand his charms for a long time. Carin just wants to study hard to become the best doctor possible; she has no time for romantic entanglements, or so she thinks. His roommate seems cut from the same cloth as the Dean. But, of course, we know from this kind of film that persistence will win out–though there is a severe jolt along the way that draws up short even the irrepressible Adams, and which should remind him that as a student he is still ignorant of the workings of the human mind.
Director Tom Shadyac and screenwriter Steve Oedekerk worked together on The Nutty Professor. They manage to lift this reality-based film to just a little higher level. Still, in combination with Norman Cousin’s famous book on how he was healed through humor and medicine, the film could open up for a group a rich opportunity to explore the topic, one that will become increasingly important in a culture that is so dependant upon a technology-centered medical establishment in which the humanity of the patient often is overlooked. If you do use the film with a group, see if there is a clown-minister or therapist in your area who could co-lead the discussion.
1. Following the death of someone very close to him, and for which he could be blamed in part, Patch stands at the edge of a mountain and pours out his agony to God. “You created man,” but there is a lot of pain and suffering, he says. “You rested on the 7th Day. Maybe you should have spent it on compassion.” What could one say in answer to such a prayer? What “answer” does Patch receive a moment later? (Note how similar this is to the faith-restoring episode in James Agee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Death in the Family, and also in its stage adaptation All the Way Home, also winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and transferred beautifully to the screen.) What has the butterfly symbolized in the church for many centuries?
2. The dean is leading his coterie of med students through the halls and in and out of rooms, treating the patients as if they were lab specimens. Patch as been silent, but then when the Dean describes a woman on a gurney in terms of her medical condition, the teacher is drawn up short when asked, “What is her name?”