224. Joe Versus the Volcano


Movie: Joe Versus the Volcano

Release Date: March 9, 1990

Director: John Patrick Shanley

Starring: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya, Barry McGovern, Ossie Davis.

Tag Lines: “An Average Joe. An Adventurous Comedy.”

“A story of love, lava and burning desire.”

Relevance: Just like yesterday’s movie (see 225. Groundhog Day), I was somewhat alone on my affection towards ‘Joe Versus the Volcano.’ I saw it in theaters on my spring break from college in 1990. I went with a group of friends and absolutely loved everything about the movie. My friends, not so much.

Billed as a romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, the movie was much more than that. It received mixed reviews from critics and was only a modest hit but the overall reaction from audiences was “meh.” I was one of the rare individuals in my group of friends that applauded everything about it. The movie wasn’t the typical romantic comedy that everyone was expecting from its stars. It was a new, fresh and sporadically goofy observation on life, and I ate it up. I was fascinated with the film’s symbolism, its overall message and its commentary on society in general. Most others just wanted to go to the movie and laugh. I did laugh, quite a bit actually, but I was more enthralled with its substance.

At almost nineteen years of age, I was very optimistic about what my life was going to be and more importantly what it wasn’t going to be. The “everyman” Joe Banks, played by Tom Hanks, represented both of those things. Life before his “brain cloud” diagnosis was what I most definitely did not want out of life and his life after the diagnosis was what I craved and wanted for myself, the life of freedom, happiness and to be in complete amazement. As I moved on through the years, I found that I was somewhere caught in the middle of both. For almost twenty-five years, I was “stuck” in a job that drained the life out of me yet on the flip side I have had quite a journey filled with ups and downs with many re awakenings, lots of joy and of course, amazement.

‘Joe Versus the Volcano’ isn’t a movie that I have watched a lot over the years, but its message has stayed with me. There are certain images from the film, the crooked path, the lightening, the luggage, the duck that are forever in my subconscious but also its words. Certain quotes from the film came back to me in times when I seemed to have needed them the most.

“Joe, nobody knows anything. We’ll take this leap and we’ll see. We’ll jump and we’ll see. That’s life!”

“My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”

Who knew that a film about the fictional island of Waponi Woo whose inhabitants are infatuated with orange soda could give me more philosophical guidance than any classroom or religion. One of the many reasons why I will always love the art of film-making. It taught me a lot while entertaining the heck out of me.

Today’s Thoughts: “I saw the moon when we where out there on the ocean. Shinning down on everything. I’ve been miserable for so long. Years of my life wasted…A long time on a crooked road.”

As I already mentioned, ‘Joe Versus the Volcano’ is not a film that I have watched hundreds of times like many of the other films on this blog. But its importance is no less valuable to me. I probably haven’t seen it in its entirety in almost twenty years, and I was very excited to re-visit the island of Waponi Woo today.

Anyone that has been following this blog knows that I am a huge Tom Hanks fan, both in life and on film. ‘Joe Versus the Volcano’ is his fifth film on my list of most influential films of all time, with another nine more to go. (For the others, check out 314. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 275. Apollo 13, 256. The Green Mile and 234. Saving Private Ryan.) He is great in this film and has both comedic and dramatic moments alike. As much as I adore him in it, I was more impressed with Meg Ryan. She is so charming, funny and enchanting in the three different roles that she plays. I could only imagine how much fun this was as an actor to take on and I am in awe of her performances.

‘Joe Versus the Volcano’ is a film that may not stand at the top of its stars’ and director John Patrick Shanley’s resumes, but it is one that they should be proud of and I am glad that it has become somewhat of a cult classic. There are some really beautiful moments in the film, both in visuals and in words. I strongly urge anyone that hasn’t seen it to check it out.

Ways to Watch: YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Hulu, DVD Availability.


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