Patch Adams

USA 1998

Reviewed by Kevin Maher


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

North Virginia, 1969. After a failed suicide attempt Hunter Adams checks himself into Fairfax psychiatric hospital. Because he has a rapport with other patients and is disgusted with current medical practice, he decides to become a doctor himself. Two years later he attends Virginia Medical University. Unhappy with the lack of patient contact, Adams makes secret visits to the college hospital to entertain terminally ill children. Walcott, the dean of studies, finds out about Adams' trips and warns him to keep away from the hospital. Adams falls for one of his classmates, Carin, and continues visiting and entertaining the patients. He is discovered and given a final warning.

Unperturbed Adams decides to set up a free hospital in the countryside of West Virginia with Carin and another medical student, Truman. The hospital, named the Gesundheit Institute, is an immediate success. One night, while Adams and Truman are stealing basic supplies from the college hospital, Carin is murdered by a Gesundheit patient. Walcott learns of Gesundheit and expels Adams from the college for practising without being qualified. Adams goes to the board of appeal to plead his case. At the hearing, Adams defends Gesundheit and demands that doctors care more for their patients. He is reinstated by the board and later graduates.


"You have a gift, you have a way with people - they like you!" is just one of the many platitudinous commendations repeatedly hurled at Robin Williams' 'Patch' Adams in this excessively sentimental movie. Playing a benevolent doctor of laughter, Williams returns once again here to the altruistic man-child persona that first gained him fame in the television series Mork & Mindy and was honed in such films as Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, Jack and Jumanji. Yet in crafting Patch Adams into an archetypal 'Robin Williams vehicle' comedy director Tom Shadyac (Liar Liar) and writer Steve Oedekerk (who co-wrote The Nutty Professor with Shadyac and others) have merely highlighted how limited and reductive this same wide-eyed persona has become.

The film-makers have taken the admirably radical life of Hunter Doherty Adams as described in the quasi-autobiographical book Gesundheit: Good Health is a Laughing Matter, and processed it through the screenwriting mill. Gone are the years spent touring Europe, the trips to Russia, the pleas for world peace, the work in black ghettos and the conscientious-objector status - all elements formally and politically problematic for a mainstream movie. Instead, ten days of positive affirmation in a mental institution and a week of arguments with Dean Walcott are transformed, pace Joseph Campbell or John Grisham, into the key structural trials of Adams' life. (Incidentally, Adams earned the moniker 'Patch' from the black anti-Vietnam badge he always wore on his doctor's lapel, and not, as the movie so quaintly suggests, from fixing a leaking cup with sticky-tape.)

Then there's Adams himself. Familiar to many Americans from his numerous television appearances, at a lanky six feet and four inches, with long hair and a conspicuous Salvador Dali moustache, he could hardly be physically farther from Williams' short, neatly cropped and clean-shaven hero. Of course, this hardly matters since Williams is clearly playing Williams here. And though Patch Adams flirts with the staples of the college flick, the hospital tearjerker and the courtroom drama, the greater part of its effect depends upon how one feels about Williams' slapstick and manic-delivery shtick. Director Shadyac underscores Williams' comic routines with superfluous and frankly relentless reaction shots of patients and hospital staff alike crumpling with laughter. It's an effect that becomes strangely numbing, and it helps convince us that yet again we're watching a showcase for Williams' familiar talents rather than the natural progression of a fictional character.

Finally, and in what can only be described as an immense lapse in judgement, the film-makers have chosen to have real cancer-stricken children playing themselves in the hospital scenes. This means that after some predictable lip-service is paid to dying with dignity and humanity, the children are wheeled out in the movie's closing courtroom scene as a visual punchline to Adams' syrupy rhetoric. That real pain and suffering could be used so casually and insouciantly is a sad indictment of a movie that purports to deal with the altruism of its central character while assuaging only the egotism of its star.


Barry Kemp
Mike Farrell
Marvin Minoff
Charles Newirth
Steve Oedekerk
Based on the book Gesundheit: Good Health Is a Laughing Matter by
Hunter Doherty Adams
Maureen Mylander
Director of Photography
Phedon Papamichael
Don Zimmerman
Production Designer
Linda DeScenna
Marc Shaiman
©Universal City Studios, Inc
Production Companies
Universal Pictures presents a Blue Wolf, Farrell/Minoff, Bungalow 78 production
Executive Producers
Marsha Garces Williams
Tom Shadyac
Steve Oedekerk
Devorah Moos-Hankin
Associate Producers
Alan B. Curtiss
Allegra Clegg
Production Co-ordinator
Debra James
Unit Production Manager
Allegra Clegg
Supervising Location Manager
Michael John Meehan
Location Manager
Rory W. Enke
Assistant Directors
Alan B. Curtiss
Jonathan Watson
David Bernstein
Rebecca S. Greeley
Script Supervisor
Carol De Pasquale
Debra Zane
San Francisco:
Beau Bonneau
North Carolina:
Kim Petrosky
ADR Voice:
Barbara Harris
Camera Operators
Patrick Loungway
Kim Marks
Special Visual Effects
Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Sheena Duggal
Visual Effects Producer:
Julia Rivas
Visual Effects Executive Producer:
Jenny Fulle
Computer Graphics Supervisors:
Sam Richards
Thomas Hollier
Digital Production Manager:
Dawn Guinta
Visual Effects Editor:
Guy Wiedmann
Butterfly Animation:
David Schaub
High Speed Compositing Artists:
Marguerite Cargill
Doug Forrest
David Takayama
Compositing Artists:
Daniel Eaton
Layne Friedman
Technical Designer:
Max Bruce
2D/3D Painter:
Raquel Morales
Matte Painter:
Robert Stromberg
Rotoscope Artists:
Maura N. Alvarez
Joanie Karnowski
Susan Kornfeld
Ivo Kos
Film Scanning/Recording:
Attila Veress
Visual Effects Editor
Scott Hill
Special Effects Co-ordinator
David Blitstein
Art Director
Jim Nedza
Lead Set Designer
Erin Kemp
Senior Set Designer
Don Weinger
Set Designers
Doug Pierce
Dawn Swiderski
Set Decorator
Ric McElvin
Storyboard Artist
Dan Sweetman
Costume Designer
Judy Ruskin-Howell
Costume Supervisor
Mary Lane
Hallie D'Amore
Mindy Hall
Key Hair Stylist
Judy Cory
Pacific Title/Mirage
Music Conductor
Pete Anthony
Music Orchestratrions
Jeff Atmajian
Frank Bennett
Patrick Russ
Pete Anthony
Music Producer
Marc Shaiman
Song Co-ordinator
Andrew Dorfman
Supervising Music Editor
J.J. George
Music Scoring Mixer
Dennis Sands
Music Programmer
Nick Vidar
Richard Grant
Richard Bronskill
"All God's Chillen Got Wings" (trad), arranged/ adapted by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar; "American Patrol" by F.W. Meacham; "Bell Bottom Blues" by Eric Clapton, performed by Derek and the Dominoes; "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin; "Carry On" by Stephen Stills, performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash & Young; "Chattanooga Choo Choo" by Harry Warren, Mack Gordon, performed by members of The Glenn Miller Orchestra; "Für Elise" by Ludwig van Beethoven; "Good Lovin'" by Rudy Clark, Arthur Resnick, performed by The Rascals; "Into the Mystic" by/performed by Van Morrison; "Let it Rain" by Eric Clapton, Bonnie Bramlett, performed by Eric Clapton; "Oh Suzanna" (from the film Duck Soup) by Steven Foster, arranged/adapted by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar; "Only You Know and I Know" by/performed by Dave Mason; "People Got to Be Free" by Eddie Brigati Jr., Felix Cavaliere, performed by The Rascals; "Stand" by Sylvester Stewart, performed by Sly & the Family Stone; "The Country's Going to War" (from the film Duck Soup) by Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar; "The Weight" by
J.R. Robertson, performed by The Band; "What Is Life" by/performed by George Harrison
Sound Mixers
Nelson Stoll
Steve Maslow
Gregg Landaker
Brion A. Paccassi
Frank J. Fleming
Stage Engineers
John Clavin
Jay Palmer
Supervising Sound Editor
Michael Hilkene
Dialogue Editors
Gaston Biraben
Avram Gold
Sound Effects Editors
Odin Benitez
Randall Guth
Michael Jonascu
Piero Mura
Additional Sound Effects Recording
Ken J. Johnson
Rick Canelli
Thomas J. O'Connell
Chris Welch
Solange S. Schwalbe
Dan O'Connell
John Cucci
Debbie Seaman
James Ashwill
John O. Wilde
One Step Up
Medical Technical Advisers
Mary J. Alen
Denise Lewis
Robin Williams
Hunter 'Patch' Adams
Monica Potter
Daniel London
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Bob Gunton
Dean Walcott
Josef Sommer
Doctor Eaton
Irma P. Hall
Frances Lee McCain
Harve Presnell
Dean Anderson
Daniella Kuhn
Jake Bowen
Peter Coyote
Bill Davis
James Greene
Michael Jeter
Harold Gould
Arthur Mendelson
Bruce Bohne
Trevor Beene
Harry Groener
Doctor Pack
Barry 'Shabaka' Henley
Stephen Anthony Jones
Richard Kiley
Doctor Titan
Douglas Roberts
Ellen Albertini Dow
Alan Tudyk
Ryan Hurst
Peter Siiteri
chess man
Tim Wiggins
scared customer
Helen Tourtillot
feeble woman
On West
Domenique Lozano
Ralph Peduto
Ken Hoffman
big Texan
Jim Antonio
Roy Conrad
E.R. doctors
Jay Jacobus
Jack Walton
Dot-Marie Jones
Miss Meat
Geoff Fiorito
Samuel Sheng
3rd year students
Kathleen Stefano
Piers MacKenzie
Doctor Hashman
Alex Gonzalez
Hispanic boy
Ismael 'East' Carlo
Hispanic father
Cameron Brooke Stanley
Jamieson G. Downes
Jena Marie Thomas
Wesley G. Haines
children's ward patients
Richard J. Silberg
William Joseph Scharf
James Anthony Cotton
Michael Rae Sommers
Howard Allison Williams
David Fine
James Carraway
J. Stephen Coyle
psych patients
Wanda McCaddon
woman in lobby
Wanda Christine
Nurse Klegg
Lorri Holt
pediatric nurse
Stephanie Smith
laughing nurse
Mary Delorenzo
hysterical woman
Donna Kimball
Norman Alden
truck driver
Lydell M. Cheshier
younger man
Diane Amos
Sonya Eddy
older waitresses
Kelvin Yee
Doreen Chou Croft
Asian woman
Bill Roberson
Fred Jarvis
Randy Oglesby
pinstriped man
Vilma Vitanza
Bonnie Johnson
Walcott's secretary
Jack Ford
Christine Pineda
Hispanic girl
Karen Michel
Mrs Davis
James Allen
Katherine A. Fitzhugh
Mrs O'Bannon
Kyle Timothy Smith
Jonathan Holder
Davis' sons
Renee Rogers
Shanón Orrock
Don Rizzo
Andrew Clement
George Lee Masters
Daniel P. Hannafin
Roger W. Durrett
boardroom doctors
Richard C. Adkins
Ralph David Westfall
Bob Feaster
Thom McIntyre
Alfred Salley
Michael Kennedy
United International Pictures (UK) Ltd
10,391 feet
115 minutes 27 seconds
Digital DTS sound/SDDS/Dolby digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011