‘Patch Adams’: He proves laughter is the best medicine

From the archives: originally published in the GlimmerGlass Jan. 29, 1998

By Keely Long, Arts Editor, 1998

Do your harbor aspirations of becoming either a doctor or a clown? Are you fascinated by incentive, yet comical uses for bedpans and tongue depressors? Better yet, are you looking for something to do this evening? The film, “Patch Adams”, may be right up your alley.

“Patch Adams” is based upon the true story of  Hunter “Patch” Adams, the physician who founded the Gesundheit Institute, a free clinic in West Virginia that practices a blend of healing and humor.

At the movie’s opening, Patch, masterfully portrayed by Robin Williams, is so depressed and disillusioned by life that he decides to check himself into a mental institution. There he encounters patients with problems far greater than his own, and doctors who seem to be lacking in the compassion department.  Inspired by a fellow patient and armed with his own sense of humor, Patch checks himself out of the hospital in order to pursue his dream of helping people. Two years pass, and he has become a first-year medical student at the Medical college of Virginia.

So begins Patch Adams’ quest to become a doctor, and its one of the funniest and most moving quests in the history of film.

Along the way, Patch manages to fall deeper in love with his chosen profession, with his patients, and with another medical student, Carin, played by relative newcomer, Monica Potter.

However, Patch faces some typical obstacles in his quest, including a dean who accuses him of ‘excessive happiness’ (Bob Gubton), and a roommate who is exceedingly jealous of Patch’s accomplishments (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). These character-obstacles seemed cliché. There must be some unwritten requirement that any movie set upon a college campus (or any kind of school, for that matter) must contain at least one fussy dean and one jealous student.

However, there was so much to like about this film that it was easy for this reviewer to overlook such a minor infraction.

Despite the strong comedic elements of the “Patch Adams,” be aware that this is definitely the type of film that tugs heartstrings. Patch’s visit to the children’s ward of the university hospital, as well as his few tender moments with Carin, are particularly touching. Be prepared to laugh, to cry, and to become inspired – all in the course of two hours.

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