Film Review: Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: John Patrick Stanley
Written by: John Patrick Stanley
Music by: Georges Delerue
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya, Barry McGovern, Ossie Davis, Amanda Plummer, Nathan Lane, Carol Kane (credited as Lisa LeBlanc)

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“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.” – Patricia

This is one of those weird movies that always spoke to me, even as a kid. It’s like I knew I’d grow up and eventually find myself at a monotonous, seemingly pointless, unrewarding job for bosses that just yell nonsense and are just as lost as everyone else. So now that I am an adult and find myself in that position, this movie has even more meaning. I guess I should’ve heeded its warning when I was eleven but alas.

I also think that I liked it for the Tiki aesthetic in the movie’s third act, which sees Joe arrive at a South Pacific island where he is supposed to throw himself into a volcano in order to save the island’s tribal inhabitants.

What the movie is really about though, is living your life. It’s about not being a prisoner of what the modern world expects of you and how it’s expected for you to achieve what’s considered to be the “American dream”. Work hard, little or no play and then wash, rinse, repeat until you’re dead because retirement isn’t something most can really afford.

I love the message and the overall point of Joe Versus the Volcano, even though Joe has to go on a crazy adventure and is lead to believe he is dying and has very little time left. Joe has to believe that he’s out of time in order to really start living his best life.

Along the way, Joe meets three versions of Meg Ryan and falls in love with the best one. He also discovers that after his attempted suicidal sacrifice that he was never really dying. With this news and his new love, however, the world is Joe’s to enjoy, as he has a new, refreshed sense of being.

Beyond the story and it’s odd but somewhat clever way of delivering its message, I like just about everyone in this. Tom Hanks is pretty much his standard ’80s persona but Meg Ryan really turns things up while playing three very different characters. She excels in this movie quite magnificently and it’s kind of a shame that this was a box office dud and most people barely remember it at all. Most people I bring this film up to, haven’t seen it or even heard about it.

Joe Versus the Volcano is a weird enigma of a motion picture but I love it and always will. While I can’t consider it Tom Hanks’ best movie, it is still my personal favorite and one I like to watch when I need a kick in the ass.

Rating: 7.5/10