Blarney: “Patch Adams” and “Waking Ned Devine”
First of all, don’t let that big thing in the front of the room scare you! It’s called a “screen,” and that’s what they project the movie onto. Pick a nice, comfy seat, settle in, and prepare to enjoy your first-ever movie, Patch Adams.
The movie stars Robin Williams, an actor you have never seen before, so perhaps some explanation is in order. Williams generally plays two types of roles: Either he’s zany and rude, or he’s zany and lovable. As Patch Adams, a real-life doctor who wants to heal the sick with the power of laughter, Williams falls into the second category. He’s zany! He’s lovable! And, since you have never seen him be zany and lovable before, are you ever in for a treat! He’s zany and lovable nonstop!
At the beginning, Patch is depressed and suicidal — but don’t worry! In movies like this, none of which you’ve seen, despair and pain are easily overcome. All you need is a little companionship and a lot of string music. Speaking of which, this will also be your first exposure to Marc Shaiman’s brand of uplifting, sensitive instrumentals; bring a Kleenex, because you won’t be prepared for how deeply his music will touch you! Pity those of us who have heard this same score fifty times before.
While in a mental institution, Patch decides he wants to become a doctor. He goes to med school, where he runs afoul of the mean old dean! This dean wants Patch to follow the rules and not treat patients like people. Since you have never encountered this type of character before — an easy straw man for our hero to be morally superior to — you can be excused for hating the dean, especially when the script urges you to hiss him every time he’s onscreen. The dean, by the way, is played by Bob Gunton, who essentially played the same role as a prison warden in a great movie you didn’t see, The Shawshank Redemption. Patch also offends his uptight roommate (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who appeared in 1998’s best movie you didn’t see, Happiness), but never fear! The roomie eventually comes around!
Yes, Patch wins over everyone he meets, even an angry dying man (Peter Coyote, from that timeless classic you missed, E.T.) and a standoffish fellow student (Monica Potter). Patch falls in love with this student and gradually defrosts her, but don’t get too attached to her! When Patch opens his own clinic, and a creepy, mentally disturbed man checks in …. Well, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for those of you who have never seen a movie before, and thus won’t be able to see it coming. After this tragedy, Patch is very sad, but don’t worry! He will see the light and realize that he was put here to make people feel better — because if he quits, nobody will make a holiday movie about him.
But wait — the movie’s not over yet! Patch gets in trouble because he doesn’t follow the rules, and the mean old dean wants to make him leave school. So Patch defends himself in a courtroom before a panel of doctors. Now, I know you’ve never seen a courtroom scene before, so I won’t reveal its outcome. And you will certainly not find the manipulation level reaching an all-time high when Patch’s young chemotherapy patients make a surprise appearance, wearing his trademark red nose! Yes, if you’ve never seen a movie before, Patch Adams is the movie for you. It will surprise and fascinate you at every turn, and you won’t leave the theater feeling that you’ve seen it a hundred times before.
When you leave, by the way, just follow the little lights in the aisle, and proceed in an orderly fashion to the exit. Now you can make plans to attend your second movie! My suggestion? Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.
Those who have never seen a movie before — or who don’t go to the movies much — might be impressed by Waking Ned Devine, a mild comedy that’s been heralded as if it were the next Full Monty. In a tiny Irish village, someone wins the $6 million lottery; problem is, he’s dead. The movie is about the efforts of two old-timers (Ian Bannen and David Kelly) and their neighbors to put one over on the lottery commission so they can keep the prize. This very small-scale movie, unaccountably shot in widescreen by writer-director Kirk Jones, has one or two off-center moments, but before long it degenerates into a broad farce in which not only the wizened Kelly but the flabby Bannen must ride a motorcycle starkers, and a dislikable crone is disposed of in a way that violates the movie’s gentle tone.
Waking Ned Devine is at least mercifully brief (at 91 minutes), and it tries to get some subplot crosscurrents going, so as to make the village come alive for us as a vital and organic locale. Unfortunately, they just come across as subplots, and largely unresolved ones at that. All that really matters in the movie is money: A fetching single mom has been avoiding a humble but loving farmer because he smells like the pigs he works with, but once he gets rich, he won’t have to smell like pigs any more, so she embraces him. Pardon me if I don’t find this as heartwarming as it’s meant to be. Pardon me also if I find the performances by Bannen and Kelly of the effusive-overgrown-Irish-boys variety, and fairly tiresome.Waking Ned Devine wants to be a high-spirited pint of lager, but it’s pretty thin beer. Watching the film’s supposedly upbeat final shot, when a little boy joins the old-timers in a toast, I couldn’t help thinking, Ah, begorrah, another budding alcoholic.