Patch Adams

Movie Information

Patch Adams will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St., in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Genre: Sap-Filled Biopic
Director: Tom Shadyac (Evan Almighty)
Starring: Robin Williams, Daniel London, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Rated: PG-13

For 11 years I’d managed to avoid Tom Shadyac’s Patch Adams (1998). The image of Robin Williams in a red-clown nose was—and is—like a crucifix to a vampire for me. I had heard of its legendary gooeyness, but until now, I’d never experienced it. It is safe to say that from its very opening shots—complete with Marc Shaiman’s tinkly piano musical score—I knew this was going to be bad. I actually didn’t know just how bad, though, till I slogged my way through this Hollywoodized version of the story of Hunter Adams, a doctor who brought clowning to medicine. The merits of the real Patch Adams’ approach to being a doctor to one side, this is one appalling movie—though it actually feels like two or three appalling movies.

It’s not just that Patch Adams is a shamelessly manipulative sap-a-thon, it’s that it’s one that indulges to the hilt every obnoxious, hyperactive, oh-what-I-wouldn’t-give-for-a-tranquilizer-gun aspect of Robin Williams’ performing style—and then has the gall to ask you to admire him for it. Considering that the film appears to have made quite a tidy sum of money, it must have succeeded in that regard. I can’t imagine how, since Williams unleashed in this manner makes my skin crawl. Then again, it may be the perfect performance for this particular movie, which says a lot about the movie. Bad as the film may be (and I understand that Adams himself is not pleased with it), it’s being shown as part of a worthy cause, so it might be as well to consider it more in that light than as a movie in itself.

The film is taking the place of World Cinema this week as part of a fundraiser with members of Patch Adams’ Gesundheit! Institute. The movie will be followed by a discussion about humanitarian clowning and a brief slide show about Ash Devine’s experiences traveling to Haiti and Peru with the real Patch Adams.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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4 thoughts on “Patch Adams

  1. Dionysis

    I’ve never been able to appreciate Robin Williams; never found him funny (even Mork and Mindy was lame, na nu na nu). I think he’s done okay work in the few films where he played a serious role (i.e. The World According to Garp and one or two others), but I tend to purposely avoid his films, including this one.

    As an aside, the casting of Williams for this role always seemed odd to me. I met the real Patch Adams in the early 1990s, and he looks and acts nothing like Williams (he’s very tall, very thin, had long hair and a much less frenetic personality than Williams).

  2. brebro

    I remember the casting call for extras for this film that was lined up around and out the door of the Renaissance hotel. Were any locals actually cast in it?

  3. Sean Williams

    I understand that Adams himself is not pleased with it

    Here’s his comment on Robin Williams:

    “He made 21 million dollars for four months of pretending to be me, in a very simplistic version, and did not give $10 to my free hospital. Patch Adams, the person, would have, if I had Robin’s money, given all 21 million dollars to a free hospital in a country where 80 million cannot get care.”

    It gets better. Here’s a quote from the Gesundheit Institute website:

    “At the end of the film, Universal Studios inserted the inaccurate statement that Gesundheit had already built its free hospital. While this false claim hindered Gesundheit’s ability to fundraise for the free hospital, the movie itself raised visibility and helped launch a decade of teaching and Global Outreach.”

  4. This is, without a doubt, the worst film we have ever screened at the Courtyard Gallery. Sometimes the worst films are the most instructive to beginning filmmakers showing an artist what not to do. This is one of those films. Additionally I have always selected films for screening that are controversial in some way (otherwise why bother with a film series?). Again this film fits that bill. Ash Devine, who will be sharing her experiences with the real Patch Adams after the screening should provide some great discussion points. I hope you come out for the screening!

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