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What I Watched Last Night

Often I spend at least a certain portion of my Saturdays watching really bad TV - as opposed to the slightly bad TV I watch during the week. One difference is that I often watch retread movies on Saturdays that I never ventured out to the theater to see in their day - and never would have even if I had the chance. It's a way to numb my brain over the weekend - sort of like alcohol.

So that's how I found myself watching Patch Adams and The Break-Up within hours of each other. Go ahead, make fun of me. I don't have much of a defense. Both movies were pretty bad. At the same time, both movies could've worked. Let's take a look.

As I'm sure everybody knows, Patch Adams is the story of a real-life doctor who preaches that humor is the best medicine; that the health care system is cold and unfeeling. That rules are meant to be broken. Patch Adams is a rebel who wears a Hawaiian shirt under a white lab coat.

Movies about wacky personalities who teach us all that our institutions are inhumane may be a dime a dozen, but they remind us of a lesson we seem to constantly need re-learning. Of course, the folks who really need to learn this lesson will likely never see these movies, nor learn from them if they do. To me, the real answer is to prevent and obstruct these people from achieving positions of power. Or maybe show how a united effort - from a staff, not an individual who has to put his or her ass on the line - can create change.

Because if you're waiting for a Patch Adams to come save you, you're going to be waiting a long time.

And you'll be waiting even longer if you're waiting for Robin Williams to come save your film.

As has been observed by many millions before me, this is pretty much the same character Williams has played in several movies before and after; the faux gonzo humanitarian who shakes up a chilly bureaucracy of narrow-minded traditionalists.

Maybe in the 60s this would have been compelling, but geez . . . these days you can just go work for Google and play ping-pong all day.

Anyway, the problems with this movie go beyond Williams. In effect, there is really no plot. Oh sure, we ostensibly watch Patch progress through medical school, open an unlicensed free clinic, and cope with the death of his love interest. But there really isn't a narrative thread; instead, the film is pieced together by a series of scenes so thin that the constant tinkling of the wondrous Disney-like score provides most of the fake emotional ballast.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the stereotypical stand-in for the arrogant rich kid who has a super-sized brain but can't relate to people; Monica Potter is the woman who has been the target of men for all her life because of her attractive good looks whom Patch covets solely because of her attractive good looks; Bob Gunton is the evil dean who dares to enforce a rule keeping medical students - who are, after all, still students and haven't even graduated - from seeing actual patients until they are ready to do so without killing them. Somehow, this is judged to be an evil rule imposed by evil doctors who evilly think one should have a medical degree before trying to treat the guy in Room 305 dying of pancreatic cancer.

Truly, I thought Patch Adams should have been tossed out on his ass long before he got his dramatic hearing before the state medical board. And the dean was right when he diagnosed Adams not as a hero but as a guy working through his own issues in his selfish search for meaning and validation.

In the end, Patch pretty much gets his object of desire murdered. And then he only breaks out of his depressive shell by believing that she has been reincarnated as a butterfly. I mean, really. What is the real lesson here?

I know this movie has been the subject of much (deserved) mockery, but I consulted Wikipedia to see how it did at the box office. "The film is generally considered a box-office success, grossing over twice its budget in the United States alone."

Not a shock.

At least on IMDB there is a reader thread titled "WHY does nobody like this movie?"

Finally, the real Patch Adams is still around. I'm sure he's a great guy, but seeing him with the duck hat and rubber nose here makes me want to smack him in the face.


The Break-Up is a better movie than Patch Adams, but it's still a failure.

This movie could have worked if it went one way or another - darker or more intellectual in its rendering of a relationship that falls apart and the messy aftermath, or zanier in its depiction of bitter, warring ex-lovers. More of the a cappella martial arts brother and less about the freedom to play video games now that the nagging girlfriend is gone.

My suspicion, too, is that either direction would have required different casting. Cameron Diaz or Mira Sorvino, for example, in the zany direction; Janeane Garafalo in the darker or intellectual direction, natch. I almost hate to say it, but maybe even Jim Carrey or, better yet, Matthew Broderick as the guy. Just sayin'.

The problems with this film are myriad. First, the relationship between Jen and Vince isn't believable. They meet at a Cubs game and we're quickly spun through a series of photos to establish that they fell in love and eventually bought a condo together. There's no fire, just bickering.

The movie does work in brief bursts, which is what leads me to believe it could've worked if it went in an alternate route. For example, the argument about doing the dishes ("I want you to want to do the dishes!" "Who wants to do dishes?!") is believable, as is the way the movie touches on communication problems where each side is listening to the same words but hearing different things.

But alas, those moments are in short supply.

On the other hand, if the movie went down a more psychotic route, that, too, would have been interesting. Trying to make each other jealous is pretty rote; a more devious battle covering a wider range of each person's life would have had far more potential. I mean, the Vince Vaughn character runs a Chicago tour bus; how could that not be a vehicle (no pun intended) for dark comedy?

"I found two good things in this otherwise execrable movie," one thread says at IMDB.

How did it do at the box office?

According to Wikipedia, "The romance/comedy film has grossed over $203 million worldwide, with a total of $118,703,275 in the American box-office."

I seem to remember it being considered a flop, though.

Here's how Roger Ebert opened his review:

"The Break-Up hints that the broken-up couple will get back together again, but that doesn't make us eager for a sequel. The movie stars Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston as Gary and Brooke, a steady couple who have many reasons to break up but none to get together, except that they fall in love. Since the scenes where they're together are so much less convincing than the ones where they fall apart, watching the movie is like being on a double-date from hell."

Even more so when your double-date is this and Patch Adams. But at least I succeeded in numbing my brain.


See what else we've been watching! Submissions welcome.


Posted on November 17, 2008

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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