Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Patch Adams.”
The Movie: “Patch Adams”
Starring: Robin Williams, Daniel London, Monica Potter
Director: Tom Shadyac
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) The true story of a heroic man, Hunter “Patch” Adams, determined to become a medical doctor because he enjoys helping people. He ventured where no doctor had ventured before, using humor and pathos.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 22 percent
Brown: My back hurts. So I’m hoping the power of laughter from the JOE-DOWN will cure me of my aches.
After slogging through a Marvel movie that’s probably worse than “Howard the Duck” in 1990’s “Captain America” combined with The Rock month, we’ve watched a whole lotta action movies lately.
So it was time to delve back into drama and one man’s ill-fated and clear attempt to win an Oscar: Robin Williams in “Patch Adams.”
I remember all the commercials for this movie in my pre-teen days. And it seemed like a movie that a lot of people enjoyed. It doubled its money.
Meanwhile, critics hated it (see the 22 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). Even the real-life Patch Adams hated it for marginalizing him as just a funny doctor. But the audience score on RT is 73 percent.
Sidenote, the real Patch Adams has a sick mustache. Look at this man!
The real Patch Adams is really doing good in the world. The fictional Patch Adams, he’s better off building an improv comedy building instead of a hospital.
So not only is my back hurting, but my head is hurting thinking about this movie. While I try to heal my aches and pains with modern medicine, give me your thoughts on this movie, Froemming.
Froemming: I have never seen this, but knew about it with the red noses and all. Also, Robin Williams, even in his worst movies, is a goddamn treasure to watch.
Now, you said ill-fated attempt at an Oscar. Williams did win an Oscar in 1998, just not this film. That was “Good Will Hunting,” not it’s sequel “Hunting Season.”
This movie has its moments for me, all of them Williams, but wow did I have a hard time watching an obvious mentally-ill man run around scaring the bejesus out of patients in a hospital. It was like “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” only terrifying.
Look, I am going to get into this swimming pool full of spaghetti noodles, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: Like any uplifting tale, we open our movie in a mental institution where at one point, Robin Williams’ opening dialogue quotes the dictionary like every lazy college paper we’ve all written at one point.
Hunter Adams has admitted himself here because he has suicidal thoughts. As he’s touring the place, I keep hoping he’s going to break free thanks to a water fountain and either a giant Native American or a misinformed Barney Gumble.
While in the hospital, Adams sees doctors with… less than ideal bedside manner.
LIke, I get it from his perspective. But this is a mental hospital. Extreme mental illness is very tough to treat with just empathy. Your (REDACTED) roommates hallucinates about squirrels in the room and refused to get out of bed! A sympathetic ear will not beat actual medicine to help with delusions.
Get ready for a lot of stuff like this from me. It’ll be a running theme.
Froemming: Haven’t you heard, Brown?
I am no doctor, but Hunter playing into his roommate’s hallucinations, playing along so the man can take a leak and he can get some sleep isn’t the best for of therapy. Laughter and whatnot helps, sure, but you know what is better than laughter for medicine? Medicine. Actual medicine is better than laughter in such situations.
But Hunter is now inspired and decides to leave the hospital against his doctor’s wishes. For a man who is gungho about helping others, he really doesn’t take advice from others for his own mental illnesses. So he goes undiagnosed now, and heads to medical school, where he will show that crusty old dean what’s what!
Brown: Don’t forget: While in the mental institute, Hunter meets a philanthropist who had a Howard Hughes-style breakdown and gets the nickname “Patch” after fixing the dude’s coffee cup. Never mind that it was a paper cup that could have easily been replaced but I digress.
Patch enrolls at the Medical College in Virginia. It’s here when I think this Patch Adams, and not the real-life hero, was the guy in blackface in Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s med school yearbook photo. Because that’s something this Patch Adams would do thinking he was funny and helping people.
First day of class, Patch is off-put by Dean Walcott’s robotic-like approach to medicine. The guy believes in not being emotionally involved with patients so you’re not devastated by every little thing that goes wrong. Makes total sense. He’s a douche about it. But it makes sense.
Froemming: This is medical school, not a rock concert!
Yes, we non-medical professionals watching are like “hey, that makes sense! Care about the patients. Be more personal with them.” Then I realized, much how people don’t understand how journalism works and think we all get checks from George Soros to bend the news to a personal point-of-view, maybe — just maybe — the crusty old dean has a point and I should trust the experts.
Also, during this first lecture, we meet Tricia Poe, wife of Cameron Poe from “Con-Air” posing as a woman named “Carin Fisher,” a fellow medical school student. And right away old Patch is smitten by this woman, and does everything most modern college campuses make students sit through a presentation about regarding how to not treat women on campus.
Brown: Were you like me and thinking the entire time that Patch’s aim seemed to be more of a psychologist than a medical doctor? All he ever talked about was being able to listen and care for patients at an emotional level.
Froemming: That is exactly what I thought. Maybe the real Patch Adams confused the two professions? Or it is just how the screen writers wrote this? But yeah, he would have fit in perfectly as a psychologist. Then again, we don’t get much info on what area of medicine he really is studying. General practitioner? I dunno, they never really tell us.
Now, Patch has a roommate, Mitch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who finds a wound-up, possible manic-depressive person living with him a bit much. I love Robin Williams, but his endless supply of energy wears me out just watching on the screen. Imagine living with that. Mitch does, and he seems pretty annoyed by it.
Brown: That’s pretty much the theme of this movie. Patch Adams is the bright light in a medical world of cynicism and a high guard. And yeah, it’s off-putting. It’s like how I get uncomfortable when drive-thru attendants at Culver’s or Chick-Fil-A are overly nice. It’s an indictment on me, I know.
Froemming: It’s Pride Month and you are bragging about eating at Chick-Fil-A? Wow.
Brown: Their politics suck. Their milkshakes do not suck.
There’s also a point where Patch meets a classmate in Arthur where he starts expounding on his pro-positivity ideas of medicine. They go so far as to break into a meat packers convention and Robin Williams just goes to town on meat puns and it is… just grating. I mean, hell, he gives the meat packers the equivalent of a Dwight Schrute dictator speech.
Side note: Most grating part of this movie is the soundtrack. It’s like it was composed by Danny Elfman with a Sam’s Club-sized stash of Pixy Stix.
Froemming: He and Arthur also break the rules by seeing patients and visiting the hospital, which is reserved for third year students. Patch cheers up a bunch of sick children by popping on a bulb from what I think was an enema, which was pretty gross. But he brought them joy.
Brown: He brought joy to the children by acting like Apu thinking he was a hummingbird after working 96 hours straight.
Froemming: Again, he is better suited as a psychologist than a surgeon or whatever. Cheer them up and then let the crusty old doctors and surgeons do all the other work.
Brown: I don’t care how good your intentions are, if you’re wearing a meat packer’s white coat and posing as a doctor to see patients, that should be grounds for expulsion from medical school. (REDACTED), that should get you arrested for trespassing and impersonating a medical professional. This Patch Adams (and not the one who is doing great things with his Gesundheit! Institute) should be arrested and hit with a grocery store receipt of restraining orders.
Instead, he gets to torture childhood cancer patients — our (REDACTED) most vulnerable of children! — with his (REDACTED) amateur improv.
I like Robin Williams. I really do. But I really hate this character.
Froemming: You keep saying the real Patch Adams does great things, but his Wikipedia page is filled with “alternative medicine” and terms like “holistic” which lead me to believe he might be one of those kooks who puts crystals on people and have them eat weird roots to fight very real illness. I am not sure if he is, but those are usually red flags to me.
Brown: Look, I wouldn’t have him treat me. I believe that stuff can work as long as it’s part of a treatment that includes western medicine. And I’m all for the idea of improving quality of life for patients.
At least (I hope) he’s not telling people to stop getting vaccines. There’s bigger monsters in medicine, like Jenny McCarthy.
Froemming: Anyway, Patch is helping in his unique way of clowning around and making people laugh. And we also learn he is in the top of his class. For a guy who — according to Mitch — doesn’t hit the books much, he is excelling greatly in medical school. He’s just the bane of the crusty old dean’s existence.
We do see Patch, Arthur and Carin in a study group, where Patch just makes the future Mrs. Cameron Poe uncomfortable with his philosophy and his awkward advances. But hey, the study group gave me flashbacks of this!
If only Abed were there to drop more pop-culture references in a sentence than Brown and I.
Brown: Patch needs to get a few things through his skull. Not everyone subscribes to your theory of medicine and want to take the practical, methodical, time-proven method of healing patients with, you know, medicine. Quit forcing your beliefs on your classmates, you overbearing lunatic.
And as far as Carin goes, No Means NO, you poorly-dressed, walking, talking #MeToo story.
Froemming: I think you hate Robin Williams.
Brown: I really hate his portrayal of Patch Adams.
Froemming: How is it different from any other movie he has been in. He mostly plays “Robin Williams,” minus some of his more serious roles. It’s like saying “Man, I’d love ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,’ but Nicholson’s portrayal of McMurphy drives me nutty.” He’s basically playing himself.
Brown: It’s too over the top here. Like, if it had more gravitas like his performance in “Dead Poet’s Society” and was more subdued with the jokes, it’d be so much easier to swallow. But this really is a doctor trying to be a night-club comedian over a doctor trying to care about his patients through compassion and lightheartedness.
Froemming: Man, you’re really going to hate the cartoon “Aladdin.” And all his standup specials.
Anyway, to move things along, Patch gets on the dean’s nerves and is almost expelled due to his suspicious grades (Mitch “The Snitch” tries to rat him out) and embarrassing him in front of colleagues. Patch is truly living the Homer Simpson college experience. Another dean steps in and helps, as long as he stays out of trouble. So what does he do? Hell, why not sneak back into the hospital to cheer up patients, then have your old mental institute buddy give you land and resources to start your own free clinic!
So now he is practicing medicine without his doctorate, full training and (we learn) resources he steals from the medical school.
Again, I am no expert, but I think these red flags would (and probably should) prevent him from practicing medicine. It’s not quirky, it’s (REDACTED) dangerous.
Brown: This is a point in time where I wish some big-city bureaucrat would come and shut down a hospital. We already learned earlier that laughter isn’t enough to cure pancreatic cancer. What does Patch think a bubble gun and some lemonade will do? Again, helping quality of life is great. I wholeheartedly agree with that idea. But it has to be used WITH actual medical care. Patch is basically making a commune where hocus pocus is supposed to heal.
Something that has to be said about this Patch: This career pursuit is a dangerous trek for him. He tells Carin that he got into medicine because helping others made him stop worrying about himself.
You’re having a codependent relationship with helping people. That sounds like a recipe for personal destruction. He himself needs to be talking to a psychiatrist to come to terms with his own issues.
Froemming: No, he ends up fine. It’s other people who will bear the brunt of his lofty idealism.
Brown: You’re right. It’s a recipe for disaster either way.
Froemming: So he has this Manson-esque commune going on, and Carin sees a very creepy man named Larry, who is obviously off his rocker. Dangerously off his rocker, as we saw him earlier having harmed himself. He shows up and Patch, not seeing the red flags of a disturbed man, just welcomes Larry in.
Larry here is basically Chekov’s Mental Patient. No good can come from him.
Then we have this heart-to-heart between Patch and Carin, because of that ominous vibe from Larry, we know her days are now numbered in this movie. She finally allows herself to love after years of pain and abuse growing up, and Patch has changed her for the better. They are helping people while also going through the ropes of college. Things are all well in the world.
Brown: I mean, sure, if having to steal medical supplies from a hospital means things are all peachy.
And Larry, oh Larry. You know what could have helped you? A trained medical professional who is qualified to help you. Not a wacky dude who put an enema device on his nose before checking to see if it was sterile.
Carin, having bought into Patch’s BS, goes to Larry’s for an in-home visit and gets murdered for her troubles.
This went from a farcical movie with a man making Nazi jokes with a catonic man in a mental institution to a murder-suicide.
“Patch Adams” was painfully thirsty for an Oscar.
Froemming: Patch blames Carin’s tragic death on him, which he should. Had she not bought into his cult of personality, worked at his compound and all, she would not have found herself shot to death at a crazy man’s house.
I hope the film just glazed over the nuances of the book it was based off of, because this doesn’t make old Patch Adams seem like a great guy. No wonder he hates this movie. If a movie made me out to be a maniac with no regard for the people around me until it is too late, I would be pissed off as well.
Patch is now wanting to give it all up, this medical dream of his. And based on all the movie has shown me to this point, I agree wholeheartedly. This is not for you Patch, people have died now. You are a dangerous person in this profession. Go be a comedian where the only pain you can bring upon people are from lousy jokes.
Brown: As Patch packs up his locker, his old roommate Mitch has come around to some of Patch’s ideas. He’s a whiz kid with medicine but doesn’t have any clue about bedside manner, so he thinks Patch should stay in medicine. He’s talked into it but it won’t matter because now Walcott filed a grievance with the state medical board for running his own unlicensed medical clinic.
GOOD! Be anti-establish to how medicine is practiced but do the minimum to have a clinic open. If you can’t do that, you should be shut down and expelled. Hell, you need to be arrested for impersonating a doctor when you’re merely a student!
Froemming: Well, he gets a chance to make his case to the state medical board, which should end his career because they are professionals, not maniacs. Through stealing his own records at school (not helping his case at all in my personal opinion) he gets advice from Mitch, who tells him to talk up his grades before the board. Play on his strengths. Show them he is one of them and is worthy to be one of them!
At the hearing, we get this instead.
He rants and raves like a maniac, spouting nonsense like old Billy Madison in the clip above. If only the board had the smarts of the principal there.
Brown: Patch actually says at some point that if they take away his license, he’ll still find a way to heal people.
No, you won’t. The point of the meeting is to take away your ability to get a medical license. This would LITERALLY stop you from being a doctor. It would be time to switch careers. Or, you know, go to jail.
But that’s not gonna happen. You know why? Because a bunch of sick children show up to the meeting and put on red noses so soften the board’s cold, orthodox hearts.
That was the moment I yelled “(REDACTED) you” the same way Matt Oswalt yelled that at “Jerry Maguire.”
Froemming: Oh yeah. This was kangaroo court.
So we get to the end, and Patch is finally graduating, despite having the blood of Carin squarely on his hands. And what does he do? He moons the crusty old dean!
WHAT WAS THIS MOVIE TRYING TO BE? He didn’t show the dean anything. He mocked the man’s views, tradition and through his sloppiness, caused a woman to get gunned down in her prime. He should be in prison.
Brown: Nope. He gets to graduate. AND, he gets one more eff-you to the dean by having the back half of his robe cut off to show his ass.
This isn’t a hero of the people. This is a petulant child who insists on getting the final word in. I’d rather trust my child to Jack Kevorkian than this prop-comic-turned-doctor.
Oh, and an old woman swims in spaghetti at one point in this movie because of (REDACTED) course.
I gotta take a house call for a suicidal man. We better get to recommendations before I do that.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: If it wasn’t clear, I hated this movie.
Froemming: No. Williams is good in it, but wow, the didn’t do the real Patch Adams any favors with this.