“Patch Adams”: Healing Mentally and Medically Through Humor

In the 1998 movie Patch Adams, which is loosely based on a real life, Robin Williams plays the title character who admits himself to a mental hospital after attempting suicide.

Here’s what happens next, as described by reviewer Peter Stack, SFGate: “Under the cold gaze of an uncaring shrink, Adams discovers a knack for self-healing humor and tries it on other patients in his ward — with instant success.”

The scene below shows Adams instigating laughs in a group therapy session:

Unfortunately, this film got generally stinko reviews—apparently even the real Patch Adams hated it, info reportedly passed along in a Tweet by critic Roger Ebert.

Other critiques of note:

  • An overdose of sentimental claptrap (Time Out)
  • An offensive and deeply false ”inspirational” drama that idiotically indicts the entire medical profession in the service of making one man — Adams, which is to say Williams — look like a cockeyed saint (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly)
  • ...the kind of film that will work for an audience that’s just interested in having an emotional experience (with a happy ending) without caring how obviously or clumsily they are manipulated (Reelviews)

And some favorable if you look hard enough:

  • ...(R)uns amok for a while but ultimately manages to become bright and substantive entertainment by letting the main character occasionally drop his aggressive cheerfulness to show his aching heart and the earnestness of his mission to get doctors more engaged with patients (Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle)
  • A sure-fire crowd-pleaser! (Phillip Wuntch, Dallas Morning News)

But all that’s just about the film.

The real Patch Adams—the person, that is—has fared much better. He is a medical doctor, clown, social activist, public speaker, and founder and director of the Gesundheit Institute, a holistic medical center that has provided free health care to many.

One of his main career contributions, of course, is that he continues to spread good cheer. As his website states, “(He) believes that the most revolutionary act one can commit in our world is to be happy.”

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