Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Story of My Least Favorite Movie

When people ask me about my least favorite movie, one that always pops into my head is "Patch Adams." Certainly, there have been dumber, more amateurish movies. But this one is at the bottom of my list because of its smug self-congratulatory, sanctimony and its blatantly contemptuous insincerity. The movie is meretricious claptrap. In my review, I said

There are a lot of important points to be made here about the dignity that all of us deserve when we are scared and vulnerable and about the importance of humor in the direst of circumstances. But this movie undercuts its own arguments by presenting us with a hero who is more narcissistic than humanitarian. The old joke about Hollywood is that the only thing that matters there is sincerity, and once you learn to fake that, you're all set. This movie, with its adoring bald kids and old lady swimming in noodles and bedpan clown shoes, cannot even manage to fake it.

My friend Bill thoughtfully sent me a lovely gift, the new autobiography by Mike Farrell of television's "M*A*S*H," which has a behind-the-scenes story about the making of "Patch Adams" that deserves a movie of its own. A horror movie.

Farrell is a friend of the real Patch Adams, and encouraged him to pursue a movie deal as a way of communicating his ideas about treating patients and to raise money for his clinic. Farrell obtained the rights to the story because he was enthusiastic about what the movie could be and wanted to make sure it did his friend justice. The man who gained his greatest success playing an iconoclastic doctor on television thought he understood both Adams and show business well enough to make the movie something they could be proud of.

Instead, Farrell, his partner, and Adams were swept aside by studio executives, a newly hot director, and a big star -- Robin Williams, whose wife was added to the film as producer. Farrell's rueful but good-humored description of thuggish, childish, narcissistic, and dishonest behavior by just about all concerned is the best dissection of the corrosive power of what happens all to often to good ideas when they meet the steamroller of the Hollywood machine since John Gregory Dunne's Monster: Living Off the Big Screen.

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