December 29, 1998 -- Hollywood loves stories like "Patch Adams" which pit a non-conformist against the system. When you have a non-conformist hero like Robin Williams playing Patch Adams, taking aim at those in power in a medical school who have limited and rigid thought patterns, it is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Based on a true story, the film tells about how Adams rebels against the notion that a medical student shouldn't see patients until the third year of studies and that the doctor should not get down on the same level as the patient, or get emotionally involved with the patient. As Adams says in the movie, "You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you'll win, regardless of the outcome."
Adams finds gets to know his patients and finds out what they really want. He finds ways to fulfill their fantasies. The feel better, they require less medication. They are less trouble for the nurses. Soon the nurses become secret allies of Adams, as do some of the students and even some of the faculty.
Adams also has boundless energy and sets up a free clinic to treat patients who don't have medical insurance. He enlists the aid of fellow students in the project. This, of course, is practicing medicine without a license and it eventually lands Adams in trouble. There is also a tragedy involving one of the patients and one of the students.
These events, along with Adams' defiance of authority, put him in conflict with the powers that be at the medical school. At one point, Adams, who has had mental problems in the past, almost gives up hope, but the audience doesn't really buy that. It follows a standard Hollywood formula.
Williams is tailor-made for this role and does a wonderful job. Monica Potter is good as Carin, Adams' girl friend, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is good as Mitch, Adams' envious roommate. Daniel London is effective as Adams' friend, Truman. There are other good supporting performances by character actors like Michael Jeter who appeared with Williams in "The Fisher King," Harve Presnell, Richard Kiley, Bob Gunton (Dean Walcott), and Peter Coyote.
While the story is predictable, there is at least one surprise in it. The story is also warmhearted, funny and rewarding. Williams' clown act may not be a new one, but it is still funny. People may like this film for the same reason people like the comic stripe "Dilbert." Adams' opponent in the medical school is very much the like the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert. Williams also shows off his dramatic acting skills that won him an academy award. This is a very enjoyable film. It rates a B+.
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