Joe Vs. the Volcano

“I love you, too! I’ve never been in love with anybody before, either! It’s great! I’m glad! But the timing stinks …I’ve gotta go.”

This delightfully unique romantic comedy-adventure centers on a man named Joe Banks (Tom Hanks), who is persuaded to jump into a volcano in the South Pacific because he thinks he’s going to die.

Director John Patrick Shanley and crew create a cohesive film that connects the audience with Joe.  There are very serious and somber moments, but the subtle humor and tropical island sequences will satisfy audiences craving some laughter.

Initially set in New York, Shanley’s 102-minute screenplay is a well-constructed plot with plenty of memorable lines from the well-cast characters. Joe is an advertising librarian for a medical supply company.

Joe finds new life on his way to his island of doom through the three different women he encounters (DeDe, Angelica, and Patricia) all well played by Meg Ryan (she’s also an important voice welcoming passengers on a flight to Los Angeles).

Each character typically gets a solid block of screen time and does not reappear.

A chauffeur named Marshall (Ossie Davis) helps Joe along his personal journey and Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges) also plays a key role in Joe’s new adventure.

The well-known chemistry between Hanks and Ryan is just the first reason why this movie works. This film is their first feature film teaming as leads and was followed by Sleepless in Seattle in 1993 and You’ve Got Mail in 1998.

“I bribed them to sing a song that would drive us insane and make our hearts swell and burst,” says Joe to DeDe. ” …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,” says Patricia. These lines reflect the core emotions of these two leads as well as their current changes.

Patricia is particularly inspiring and full of life and she’s not afraid to put the ever pessimistic Joe in his place. “It’s always gonna be something with you, isn’t it Joe?” Patricia tells him.

Mr. Waturi (Dan Hedaya) is Joe’s boss. He’s a no-nonsense manager who gradually dislikes Joe’s wallowing ways. The disenchanted Joe also has a doctor named Ellison (Robert Stack) near the beginning of this plot. Later, Joe’s adventure places him in the path of a luggage salesman (Barry McGovern), Dagmar (Amanda Plummer), and an island tribe chief (Abe Vigoda).

Nathan Lane and Carol Kane are criminally underused as Baw, a prominent Waponi and hairdresser Lisa LeBlanc, but their short time is still not wasted.

Joe Versus the Volcano has several, priceless “in the moment” sequences that the solid cast likely relished. Occasionally these theatrical-like sequences hold up the plot at times, but they all work very well thanks to the strong screenplay and memorable performances.

Audiences can enjoy the great detail (e.g. pay attention to the books Joe shows to Mr. Waturi) and solid closure (all presented elements having function and some form of resolution). For example, notice how the animal on the handle of Mr. Graynamore’s cane  reappears and even gives audiences a foreshadowing clue. There are constant references to the soul. There is also a lighting bolt visual motif throughout each of the three acts.

These elements complement each character’s journey and self-correction. The leads eventually learn how to live life to the fullest and each supporting character bolsters that goal.

Oscar nominee Stephen Goldblatt’s cinematography is terrific and especially accentuates one of Joe’s most dramatic situations on the Pacific Ocean.

Dear God, whose name I do not know – thank you for my life. I forgot how BIG… thank you. Thank you for my life.

The wonderful music enhances the experience similar to Enya’s emotion-inducing inclusions in 1991’s L.A. Story. Shanley even wrote a great theme song titled “Marooned Without You” and the memorable “The Cowboy Song,” which Joe performs on the ukulele.

Georges Delerue’s musical score is a masterpiece and hard to find (only 3000 original copies then a limited 2002 re-release). The film expertly utilizes well-placed songs from Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Eric Burdon, Young Rascals, The Ink Spots, Del Vikings, Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66.

Joe Vs. the Volcano creates its own universe in fun, unpredictable, and profound ways. A brain cloud, Waponis, bubaru, a flibbertigibbet, the Tweedledee, a fire god, steamer trunks, and a typhoon change Joe’s life for the better.

I’m thankful for this highly recommended gem (***1/2 out of four stars) that probably would not have been even made without Ryan’s success from her previous film, When Harry Met Sally, Shanley’s previous directorial triumph, Moonstruck, and Hanks’ rising star power that was building to an incredible box office success streak beginning with A League of Their Own two years later.

Inspired by the 1952 short film Hello Aloha. Maybe a future version will include the original ending that was thankfully reshot. Executive produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, and Steven Spielberg

This entry was posted in 1990s Film Reviews, Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Joe Vs. the Volcano

  1. mitchteemley says:

    Haven’t seen this since it was first released. May need to rediscover it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PatrickWhy says:

    Written by John Patrick Shanley, famous playwright who also won an Oscar for Moonstruck. Joe Vs has a lot of comedic-symbolist theatricality to it and movie audiences at the time were not quite prepared.


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