Tom Shadyac’s Patch Adams (1998) is a fact-based, emotionally satisfying melodramatic comedy that charts the rise of one of medicines most unlikely pioneers and founder of the Gesundheit Clinic; Dr. Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams (Robin Williams). The film opens with Patch seemingly set for a brilliant career when he inexplicably suffers mental burn out and willingly commits himself to a mental institution. At first, Patch is all too willing to throw in the towel and forget about the world outside. But then, he becomes acutely aware of the staff’s ambivalence toward their patients.
After befriending brilliant – though seemingly beaten - industrialist, Arthur Mendelson (Harold Gould) in the asylum, Patch realizes that the real purpose of medicine is not to stave off the onset of death, but to promote and celebrate the callings of life. As Patch later reflects; “You treat an illness, you win, you lose. You treat a patient, I guarantee you’ll win every time.”
Discharging himself and reinvesting in his future as a doctor at the Virginia Medical College, Patch soon learns that his unorthodox approach is not welcome by either his chief of staff, Dean Walcott (Bob Gunton) or by fellow practitioners, Corinne Fisher (Monica Potter) and Mitch Roman (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who view him as a clown – a moniker Patch willingly accepts and celebrates with honor. Gradually, Corinne begins to see things Patch’s way, but the bridge between medicine and morality does not come without its painful sacrifices.
Shadyac’s direction is smooth and evenly paced. He allows the story, in essence, to tell itself. This is a character driven narrative, masterfully pulled together by Robin Williams’ galvanic central performance. Williams walks the tightrope between garish comedy and poignant dramatics with miraculous stealth and accomplishment. He’s really quite magnificent. In the end, the film delivers the hearty laugh and good cry that make for a very satisfying filmic experience.
Universal Home Video’s Collector’s Edition DVD; anamorphic widescreen with robust colors, excellent contrast levels and fine detail evident throughout. Occasionally, film grain is translated more as digital grit, and edge enhancement and pixelization appear sporadically throughout, but overall these anomalies do not distract. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital with a very satisfying spread across all channels. Extras include an in-depth documentary on both the film and the real Patch Adams, outtakes and the film’s theatrical trailer. Highly recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)