In the quiet, sterile, somber confines of a hospital, a clown with giant shoes and an enormous red nose suddenly bursts through a door and strides down the hall.
Patients beware ...laughter is contagious!
Academy Award® -winner Robin Williams stars in Universal Pictures' Patch Adams, a comedy with heart based on the true story of a compassionate but outrageous medical student who risks his career by defying the medical profession with his unwavering belief that laughter is contagious. After such career highlights as Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire and his Oscar® -winning supporting turn in last year's Good Will Hunting, the highly versatile star racks up another milestone as he takes on an inspiring and colorful real-life character whose reputation for zany, humorous antics rivals his own.
The director of Patch Adams is Tom Shadyac, whose first three films were the smash hit comedies Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar starring Jim Carrey, and The Nutty Professor starring Eddie Murphy. Once again Shadyac has collaborated with screenwriter/co-producer Steve Oedekerk. With Patch Adams, the pair has graduated from the lighthearted merriment of these earlier efforts to tackle a superstar vehicle with a more realistic, more dramatic but still comically-fertile story, based on a real-life character's struggle to help others.
To support his star, Shadyac has enlisted such talented young actors as Monica Potter (Without Limits, Con Air), newcomer Daniel London and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Boogie Nights, Happiness) along with such well-known character actors as Michael Jeter, Bob Gunton, Harold Gould, Irma P. Hall, Harve Presnell and Richard Kiley.
A Blue Wolf, Farrell/Minoff, Bungalow 78 Production, Patch Adams was produced by Barry Kemp (Romy and Michele's High School Reunion), Mike Farrell, Marvin Minoff (Dominick and Eugene) and Charles Newirth (Forest Gump). The executive producers are Marsha Garces Williams (Mrs. Doubtfire) and Tom Shadyac.
Hunter 'Patch' Adams was criticized in his official medical school record for "excessive happiness" and was once told by a faculty advisor, "If you want to be a clown, join the circus."
Patch did, in fact, want to be a clown. But he also wanted to be a physician. Combining vastly different sides of his personality, he became both. Patch's remarkable story, which includes having been a patient and a doctor at a mental institute, celebrates the triumph of spirited individualism and the unending pursuit of idealism.
Says Robin Williams, "Patch is a strange anomaly, just incredible. He wears massively bright floral shirts and a tie that occasionally makes noise. He's an outrageous person but a passionate and dedicated doctor. He never wanted to be part of the system, he had to create a new system."
Director Tom Shadyac explains, "Patch is a healer who tries to find out what makes you tick. What do you like? What excites you? What's your passion? Fulfilling his patients' fantasies increases their endorphin levels and their desire to recover."
Inspired to become a doctor while institutionalized for depression as a teenager, Patch Adams attended the Medical College of Virginia in the late '60s and early '70s. After graduation, he formed the Gesundheit Institute, dedicated to a more connected, personalized approach to medicine. Having initially resisted public attention, he began receiving a flurry of media coverage about his unorthodox clinic in the mid-80s and eventually wrote a book about his work in 1993.
In it, Adams explains his humor-driven prescriptions and why he's willing to dress like a gorilla, fill a room full of balloons or tub full of noodles to elicit a smile, a spiritual connection or simple moment of pleasure from a patient.
"I've always thought it strange and unfortunate that people think nothing of acting angry and grumpy, but are selfconscious about demonstrating positive feelings," says Patch. "We all know how important love is, yet how often is it really emoted or exhibited? What so many sick people in this world suffer from - loneliness, boredom and fear - can't be cured with a pill."
Using unconventional methods and wacky surprises to ease patients' anxiety and enhance their healing, Patch helped pioneer the then-startling idea that doctors should treat people, not just disease. Compassion, involvement and empathy, Patch holds, are as great a value to physicians as breakthrough medicines and technological advancements. Radical thinking, then and now.
As depicted in the film, few others initially share Patch's philosophy. The University's Dean Walcott staunchly opposes his methods, while Patch's roommate Mitch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) considers him to be no more than a childish goof.
"Mitch has a lot of parental expectations and feels enormous pressure to measure up to his family's idea of success," says Hoffman. "He's under the gun and has no time or patience for anyone who doesn't take life as seriously as he does. He sees Patch dressed oddly and appearing to be carefree, and there's immediate tension. Mitch doesn't think he belongs there."
Patch's enthusiasm does become infectious to a few, including nurse Joletta (Irma P. Hall), who looks the other way when Patch makes his unauthorized rounds, and fellow students Truman (Daniel London) and Carin (Monica Potter).
Says London, "Truman is somewhat nerdish and fearful of reprisals, and he's awed by Patch's willingness to take risks and defy authority. He really admires what Patch stands for and his awareness of critical intangibles like communication and openness. Truman gradually allows Patch to pull him out of his shell."
Carin presents a greater challenge to Patch, at least initially, as she finds fault with his in-your-face candor and insistence on eliminating 'professional distance' between doctor and patient.
"My character is very cold to Patch in the beginning," remarks Monica Potter. "Because of her background, Carin has a vulnerability she doesn't want him to see ...and she wants nothing to do with his odd ways or to get drawn into his kind of thinking. But as time goes on she sees that he is genuinely kind and caring and that begins to bring them together as friends."
Though continuing to ruffle administrative feathers, Patch finds his niche in the children's ward, where his funny, outrageous style helps break through youngsters' fears.
Fighting conventional wisdom, allowing himself to be vulnerable, and embracing the idea that service of others is the best way to combat your own problems, Patch Adams begins to reach people. Though alienating some and astounding many, he ultimately gains a valuable ally and convert in Mitch, who sees the effectiveness of Patch's style when he reaches the end of his own rope.
"Mitch is a control freak, and it gets the best of him. He's dealing with a woman who's dying and won't eat, and he can't alleviate the situation," says Hoffman. "All the stuff he's learned in medical school, all the facts and figures, all the procedures -- it doesn't work when it comes down to just trying to get someone to put a spoonful of food in her mouth. That's when he loses it and realizes he can't possibly become the best doctor in the world if he can't even convince someone to eat. He breaks down and goes to Patch and says, 'Listen, you're right, I'm wrong."
The realization, and the continuing pursuit, of Patch's dream is the Gesundheit Institute, a picturesque clinic where each patient meets not only a doctor, but a friend.
"Medical care has become more corporate and automated," says Robin Williams. "People have less contact with doctors, nurses and orderlies. My character refuses to surrender his belief in the importance of a gentle, caring bedside manner. He's the kind of doctor who by sheer presence makes you feel better."
Adds director Shadyac, "Today we know about endorphins and the importance of the mind in the healing process. That knowledge didn't exist back in the '60s and '70s when Patch was forming his philosophy. It was a radical concept then. He's really a pioneer in the discovery of the medicinal values of laughter and compassion."