Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) Poster

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An Under-appreciated Delight
Mr. E-222 June 1999
For many people, the fact that I love this movie will throw the integrity of everything else I write about into doubt. "Joe" has unfairly become an industry joke, shorthand for the depths to which Tom Hanks sank before redeeming himself with Academy Awards. This fate is horribly undeserved. "Joe" is an imaginative and gloriously life-affirming movie, a hysterically funny fantasy nearly on a par with the best of Terry Gilliam with a "carpe diem" moral that comes across with a lot more honesty and a lot less preachiness than some other movies I could mention. Every Tom Hanks performance is virtually flawless and this one ranks near the top. Meg Ryan's performances are warm and hilarious. Usually it's men who play more than one role in a movie and then it's more often for ego's sake than art's. Ryan pulls off her multiple characters with remarkable grace. More amazingly, it makes perfect sense for her to play three characters. For the sake of argument, I am willing to concede that there are those who just aren't going to enjoy this movie's unique mixture of whimsy and genuine emotion. But for me, it's a classic, easily one of my favorite movies of the decade.
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One of my all time favorites
5860backup11 January 2005
I am one of the few who saw this on the big screen TWICE when it opened. This is the movie I would take to the desert island, which miraculously has electricity a big screen and a DVD player. This is one of those rare films where every single character, no matter how minor, has a major impact on the hero and the plot. This film is also rare because the Lion's share of the funny and insightful dialogue belongs to the minor characters and not the protagonists. You have to love a movie where a luggage salesman is a major plot milestone. Ossie Davis is excellent as the wise Limo driver, Lloyd Bridges is hilarious, Tom Hanks is of course everyman, and Meg Ryan, in one of her funniest roles, is actually "every woman". "You know, the first time I saw you I thought that I had seen you before." A witty hero is commonplace and witty cast is truly memorable.

The movie is probably too allegorical for most tastes, but this is a great tale about a character afraid of life, afraid of that next step, who finds his courage and puts his foot forward again.

All in all this is one of the best kinds of movies, Funny and Hopeful.
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A misunderstood film explained
cj-scrivener3 August 2004
Most people didn't "get" this film. But each of us has a different sense of humour and depth. JVTV is a subtle, witty film with morals, not like the bash 'em and blow 'em up Hollywood films of late. Meg Ryan shows her versatility as three separate, wonderfully funny characters and Tom Hanks (think of his character in The Money Pit but amusingly depressed) as Joe Banks trapped in a dead end job and is told he has a terminal illness. He is offered the chance to "live like a king, die like a man" by jumping into a volcano as part of a business deal where Joe gets to spend as much money as he likes before the big deed. Along the way Joe meets many characters who awaken him to the fact that life is worth living. This film is loaded with wonderful observations, a great score and songs, and standout performances. JVTV is one of those rare films you can easily watch again and again, and always makes me smile every time I see it.
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Quirky is not a dirty word...
moonspinner5518 March 2001
...yet this eccentric comedy never quite found its niche with the public, and I don't know why. It's beautifully produced and written, wonderfully acted and endlessly weird (how many films can you say that about?). When sad-sack Tom Hanks decides to give up his life for a few days of luxury, we understand because his existence may be a lot like ours: glum office job with lime walls, dirty floors, unpleasant co-workers, bad coffee and fluorescent lights on the fritz. When he's out to sea, floating on his luggage, he sees shapes in the sky at night that light up his face; he may be in a precarious position, stranded on the ocean, but he's the happiest and most alive he's ever been. What a wonderful moment in a movie chock-full of smart, sneaky laugh lines and throwaway bits of business that stay with one, growing beloved in the memory. Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, also making his directorial debut, has a fine sense of pacing and a keen eye for the absurd beauty in our midst. Only in the final reel does the construction of the plot stumble, however this is due to film studio interference. ***1/2 from ****
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A sweet, wonderful romantic movie!
jcosper9 December 1998
It starts dark and dismal. It has to. The lower it starts, the higher the climax at the end when Joe is able to release his fears and live life to the fullest. A man is told he's dying of a "brain cloud" and has 6 months to live. Suddenly a stranger offers him a deal: live like a king for a month, die jumping into a volcano. With nothing to lose, he sets out for a tiny island. Along the way he discovers how wonderful life is. Not even a shipwreck can bring down his spirits. The ending is terrifically happy. The music is great. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are just as wonderful here as in Sleepless in Seattle. Abe Vigoda rocks. Watch for Nathan Lane as one of the islanders. But the ultimate scene stealer is the luggage salesman. All in all, a sweet, wonderful romantic movie.
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One of the most overlooked movies ever
Chris Dickerson29 November 2004
In complete seriousness, I can say "Joe Versus The Volcano" is one of the best movies ever to come out of Hollywood. Sadly, it's also one of the most overlooked movies ever made. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan both are absolutely fantastic in this movie that really is an allegory about life. The movie has a fantastic script, is directed beautifully and stands up to the test of time. Hanks is at his comedic best as the soul-sick Joe, and Ryan is fantastic in her three roles. Why this movie didn't do better (despite a lack of promotion) is beyond me. It is one seems like one of those word-of-mouth movies that just keep getting bigger. I saw it three times in the theater, watched it numerous times on video and purchased the DVD the day it came out. But it's OK, I know a hidden gem when I see it.
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My All Time Favorite
drosse6715 April 2001
Like many others who have commented, this movie speaks to me on many different levels. Whenever my life gets out of control, this is the movie I plug in. Joe is a character we can all identify with, and everyone has a bit of DeeDee, Anjelica and Patricia in them as well. I just wish Warner Bros. would release this on DVD (and the soundtrack, while they're at it). By far the best Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie. I just can't believe the low "grade" of this movie on IMD after reading mostly positive comments. And the few who hate it should give it another chance, and pay no attention to the silly previews that exist on some older videotapes.
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Without a doubt one of the greatest movies ever made.
Sandman13830 May 2004
I am a very tough critic, and most movies are nothing but incredible disappointments for me. However, Joe vs. the Volcano is a movie that I can honestly say is a cinematic masterpiece. When people call this a romantic comedy, they are committing a great injustice to this film. That is not to say that there is not romantic comedy in the story, but to say that it is the point of the film is monumentally short sighted. The real story in Joe vs. the Volcano is about coming to terms with yourself, finding that spark that we spend our lives searching for. It is about discovering our humanity and what that entails. Normally, this would end up being pretentious and sophomoric crap, but because the heavy subject matter is taken so lightly, we are treated to a modern fairy tale that runs the gamut in terms of emotional impact. The performances are stellar and to this day I have never enjoyed Tom Hanks more, the direction pays tribute to classic films with cinephillic glee, and the soundtrack is simply superb. 10 out of 10!
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Surprisingly Good, Unfortunately overlooked
scipioUofR14 December 2002
Tom Hanks has made many movies, most of which are very funny, emotional, and heartwarming. This movies is different from all his other movies: it is a work of art. Every scene has its own idiosyncrasies. Ordinary characters and settings have subtle emotional undertones that tug at the heartstrings. Dan Hedaya and Sam Waterstone's performances, though humorous, have a tone that is more than the sum of its parts. Color and scenery also have a hidden beauty, such as in the scene with Joe's glowing warm in his cold, blue office, or the scene with the dog and child as he exits the doctor's office, or the scene with him all alone at his table at the hotel. I first saw the movie when I was 11 years old, even then, its beauty struck me. That beauty was well capped off by the montage during the end credits. Apparently, John Patrick Shanley, or someone, put alot of work in an otherwise ordinary movie. Imagine if Stanley Kuprick had directed "You've Got mail." I'm surprised that the movie is not better known, especially that it is a big turning point in Tom Hanks career. Admittedly, his screen presence compensates for Meg Ryan's lackluster acting at times. She was best as a brunette and redhead than acting as herself. Nevertheless, a good movie, one to own and not just rent.
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Great talent - but too individual for today's film audience?
markmatthew14 November 2004
The work of highly individual artists often prompts extreme

reactions in moviegoers. Based on the evidence of "Moonstruck"

and the woefully underrated "Joe Versus the Volcano," writer/director John Patrick Shanley could have developed into a

vital film figure on the level of a Frank Capra or Woody Allen, a

creator whose personal voice would have given him a distinctive

identity - potentially his artistic and commercial strength (or


"Joe Versus the Volcano" has its occasional shortcomings, but its

sheer conceptual audacity set it apart from the film fare of its day.

Now, nearly a decade and a half after its premiere, the quality of

the dialogue alone reminds us how far our THX-ed out, Dolbyed-out, effects-obsessed movie "culture" has fallen.

The plot combines fantasy and satire in equal proportions. Joe

(Tom Hanks), a seemingly passive man who's worked at a

dreadful, abusive, dead-end job for years is told he has an

incurable disease (authoritatively diagnosed by physician Robert

Stack as a "brain cloud.") Joe quits his job and receives an offer

the next morning to go on an all-expenses paid journey to a tiny

island...that will culminate with his leap into a volcano!

Meg Ryan portrays three separate characters, and her glee in

masking her "All-American Sweetheart" screen persona is

palpable, particularly in the first segment. Even the occasional

gambits that fall slightly flat (for instance, Abe Vigoda's turn as a

leader of island natives obsessed with orange soda) cannot

seriously mar the overall brilliance of Shanley's work.

As it turned out, the box-office failure of "Volcano" didn't deter

Hanks and Ryan from reteaming for the enormously popular but

comparatively colorless "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got

Mail." (It's probably no accident that these were far safer

commercial bets than "Joe," both owing large debts to earlier


On the other hand, John Patrick Stanley has returned to crafting

plays for live theater, apparently for good; one hopes his finely

tuned ear and immense imagination will flourish in an environment that's largely removed from the demographic

panderings of Wal-Mart Nation. His gain is our loss.

Earlier, I mentioned Frank Capra as a semi-analogue to Shanley.

Perhaps this comparison may help: If you are one of the many who

can't abide Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," you probably should

stay away from "Joe Versus the Volcano" as though you had the

plague...or even a "brain cloud."

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Delightful movie
trwillett18 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I am delighted to find there are indeed folks who like JVV. I thought I was the only one. It is a delightful movie that can be watched for fun (I burst out laughing when the island chief made an appearance! great casting) or for deeper meaning. And the moon scene is beautiful.

My only gripe is (spoiler alert!) when the yacht goes down taking the crew with it. I liked the crew and their watery deaths disturb me. If I were to remake this film (starring myself, of course, in the Ryan role) I have the crew pop up from the water, each clinging to one of the magic suitcases.

thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts... T.WJ
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Romantic, witty, smart and deep.
daver-412 December 1998
The first and best of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan's films together. On the surface, a romantic screwball comedy about a guy hired to jump into a volcano to save an island tribe, but at the core of this wonderful movie (a 10 in my opinion) is the story of two complicated people who fall in love, while doing some major soul searching. Hanks' character is a sad hypochondriac who becomes happy, charismatic and impulsive AFTER being diagnosed with a terminal disease ("brain cloud"). He becomes involved with three quirky women (all played by Ryan, who uses her three acting styles with the characters--airhead, snobby and adorable) before making "the leap." Never dreary in tone (despite the premise), the movie is a deep, beautiful fairy tale for audiences (young and old) who like to think.
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Intelligent and inventively funny film, but also just plain weird
napierslogs15 October 2010
For lack of better words, "Joe Versus the Volcano" is a romantic comedy. But then again, it's not even close to a romantic comedy. It has none of the formulaic standard elements that all romantic comedies seem to have. It has none of the formulaic standard elements of fantasy films. It also doesn't seem to have much of the slow, dry aspects of character dramas. And yet, "Joe Versus the Volcano" is a comedic film about Joe who finds romance, mostly set in a fantasy world.

The highlight of the film is the comedy. It is laugh-out-loud funny in a very intelligent and inventive way. Tom Hanks as Joe is great at subtle comedy and Meg Ryan is great at over-the-top comedy. I enjoyed Hanks' character, an average Joe suffering from hypochondria, and I enjoyed Ryan's characters, weird at times, but ultimately cute and sweet.

Written and directed by the genius playwright John Patrick Shanley, this is his first feature film. It has his trademark dialogue with quick wit, but it's also just plain weird. It's a very simple story which he tells too slowly at times, and the ending gets way too cheesy. But then again, that's probably on purpose, which makes it funny.

If you're looking for a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie which is not a romantic comedy, then "Joe Versus the Volcano" is your choice.
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A Nice, Uplifiting Film
ccthemovieman-110 May 2008
Consistently horrible reviews made me reluctant to watch this over a decade ago but when I did, I thought it was pretty good. I actually enjoyed it for the most part. Of course, I usually enjoy films starring Tom Hanks. However, I almost always hate every film Meg Ryan is in, so it balances out.

Maybe I just liked Hank's role of a hypochondriac who is thinking of killing himself after he learns he's dying. No, I don't advocate that, but it's actually credible and darkly humorous.

The film turns out to be a life-affirming, inspiring story in many ways because Hanks meets various people who change his outlook, from one of probable suicide to "life is worth living." Maybe a positive message is the big reason the national critics didn't like it, as they tend to gravitate toward darkness, not light.

If you're looking for a "cute," lightweight feel-good film for the evening, I'd recommend renting this one.
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Finding the Courage to Live Fully
avisolo7 November 2004
-looks to be an esoteric message released into popular culture a la Gurdjieff. Joe is full of hints and symbols pointing to it's inner message of the wisdom of truly living. e.g:"Dear God, whose name I do not know, thank you for my life. I forgot how big . . . thank you for my life" "My father says almost the whole world's asleep. Everybody you know, everybody you see, everybody you talk to. He says only a few people are awake. And they live in a state of constant, total amazement" -Brought to mind Shakespeare's 'Tempest' (the 3 Megs=Caliban, Ariel & Miranda!) -Clearly related to Kurosawa's 'Ikiru' which might be remade by Spielberg & Hanks
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overlooked, bad-mouthed and misunderstood
ehaas2111 December 2005
I love to say this is my favorite movie of all time (of course not really, that has to be The Godfather on anyone's list). But I think this box-office bomb just gets an undeserved bad wrap. Quirky, funny and straight to the point, I think the story of Joe Banks probably hits too close to home for most Americans. To quote Tyler Durden in fight club: "we work jobs we hate to buy @*&?!! we don't need". The absolute drudgery of the work environment is out of sight. There is a whole monologue about fluorescent lighting sucking the very life out of the common worker. Meg Ryan is adorable playing 3 different characters, and Tom Hank's character gives the take this job and shove it speech of a lifetime. Worth a look if you've never seen it, and especially if you enjoyed early Tom Hanks comedies. At least that's my opinion.
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Big fan of the brain cloud
jellingsworth5 December 2005
I take a lot of flak from friends who say this movie is trash, but it is one of my all-time favorites. It's so kitschy and a classic example of the Hanks/Ryan chemistry.

Favorite scenes include Mr. Waturi's "I am not arguing that with you" rant and when Joe and Patricia are floating on their makeshift boat and Joe sees the moon rise. The late Lloyd Bridges also turns in a stellar performances as Patricia and DeDe's dad Samuel Graynamore.

It's one of those films I watch when I feel depressed, and inevitably, it lifts my spirits. My advice to critics of the movie is to view it as it is intended ... pure cinematic cotton candy. Don't expect to see an Academy Award winner, by any means.

And ultimately, who - at one time or another - has not experienced a "brain cloud?"
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Cult following
varasano21 October 2005
You might not get this movie if you see it just once or see it casually. But once you get past the initial confusion (because the movie is very different), and start to see all of the symbolism, then you'll get it. This movie has dozens of blogs devoted to it where people speculate about every meaning and symbol. I just found that out. I thought I was alone. I've seen this movie 15 times and to me it's a true masterpiece, nearly perfect in every frame, like Casablanca or Citizen Kane.

Practically every name, line and visual image has multiple meanings. Many repeat throughout the movie, such as the lightning bolt, the dogs, the ducks. There are so many lines that will stick with you.

Before you see the movie, check out some of the blogs and they'll point you in the right direction so you can get the most of the experience.
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A classic fable
Barry Moore15 May 2004
This is a highly underrated movie, that tells the story of one mans quest to find himself, and his soul.

Tom Hanks, before the Oscars, gives as good a performance as anyone has on screen. The scenes of him at the factory in the beginning are priceless.

Meg Ryan is also wonderful in several flashy roles. She is able to create different characters, all with the same basic undercurrent of sadness and desire.

Many wonderful cameos and short scenes with Lloyd Bridges standing out as the man who sends Joe Banks on his quest.

This fantasy film is a great barometer of those that "get it' and those that don't. To me, it was perfect, and I wish they made more movies like this today.

A ten out of ten. Easily.
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A brilliant film!
noclueboy26 December 2003
This movie is absolutely brilliant. It is a comedy of immense proportions and also manages to be heart warming and touching.

It follows a man through a journey of self discovery and along the way introduces us to the absurdities of daily living as embodied in the odd group of supporting characters.

Meg Ryan plays three different characters, each one personifying a quirk of personality that we all possess. Tom's Joe goes through as many changes, yet all in the same character. This is how we track his growth.

Some of the most effective scenes are the no or little dialogue scenes which exemplify Joe's journey, not just to the volcano, but to his self awareness.

Along with the beautiful message, we are treated to some of the most clever visual comedy images ever filmed. Add to the mix a superb script and wonderful acting and you have a romantic comedy that I feel is a must see.
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Woefully Underappreciated...
Thonolan331 August 2003
I've never understood why this movie wasn't more popular. I just don't get it- great acting by Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan (in three very different roles), Ossie Davis and Dan Hedaya, among others. Terrific, quirky direction and an excellent script. This movie is just so much fun to watch. It should have been hailed as an instant classic.

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Better than "Moonstruck"
bodhisattva1324 December 2002
Although it gets labeled a "romantic comedy," this film is more a philosophical treatise about living life to the fullest. Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) just doesn't feel good. And it's no wonder he works a soulless job in a depressing building with artificial lights. Finally, his physician levels with him - he has a brain cloud and is going to die in six months. Joe returns to his job, quits and prepares to wait for the end. Then a man appears at his door. He'll help Joe enjoy his last few months on earth if, in return, he will jump into the Big Woo, a volcano. Joe agrees and thus begins his great journey of finding the meaning of life and his role in it. There's something so liberating about what Joe discovers. He is going to die. Everyone is. So why waste what he has? Why hide from life? "Joe Vs the Volcano" is the kind of film I've watched over and over and never tire of, because it's so simple and yet so profound. Writer/Director John Patrick Shanley creates such a masterpiece with this film. It's funny, subtle, quirky and heartwarming. But not in the calculated Disney magic kind of way. Hanks is brilliant as the hypochondriac trapped in a sort of 9 to 5 purgatory. And no matter how many times I see it, the scene where he unsteadily rises to gaze at the enormous moon always gets me. The tears just flow. I also love the moment where he gets out of his car and hugs the old woman with a Great Dane. Many moments such as these exist in this film and most don't have dialogue bogging them down. Just music over a little vignette. Meg Ryan is good too, playing three versions of the same woman. (I particularly like the redhead who recites the poem to a much bewildered Hanks.) Dan Hedaya is brilliant as the obnoxious Mr. Waturi: "I'm not arguing with you;" as are Ossie Davis as the limo driver and Barry McGovern as the luggage salesman. (I love the luggage!) The music, too, is fantastic and I wish someone had released the soundtrack. The opening song "16 Tons" is great as is Hank's "Cowboy Song."

Whenever I'm feeling like life is a real crapper, all I have to do is put this film in and I'm good again; everything's right with the world. This is an underrated gem of a film. (Shanley should be a bit more prodigious.)
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Great Saturday night flick
movieminer3656 October 2002
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this movie on TV, and the beginning was really confusing at first. It seems weird, gets weirder, and at the end it all makes sense. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks definitely have chemistry. It's a great performance for both of them. This is not really a spoiler, if you've read the cast list: Meg Ryan plays 3 different characters which makes for a great twist. It's definitely funny, definitely crazy, and it tricks you into thinking it's half serious until the very end. Overall, it's fun, and I'd definitely recommend it.
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A movie that makes you sit up and pay attention!
brashhulk17 May 2002
There are two types of people in this world: those who "Get It" and those who "Don't Get It". The people who bash or ignore this precious gem of a movie are those people who "Don't Get It". I've never seen a movie that made such a beautiful, subtle statement about living your life to the fullest without pandering to any of the typical Beating The Dead Horse melodrama that Hollywood normally subjects us to. The music, the dialogue, the sets, the colors, and the performances are all just perfect. I usually don't go more than a month or so without popping it into the VCR (and now FINALLY it's on DVD - YAY!) and just smiling the entire way through this wonderful film.
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my life philosophy comes from Joe
kmv32 January 2001
most people hate this movie. however, if you're the kind who enjoys movies with more to them (a la "harold and maude"), see this movie. it starts slow, but there's something in every scene to pick up. to get you started: in the middle of the movie, patricia graynamore (meg ryan) quotes her father: "my father says that almost the whole world is asleep. everybody you see, everybody you know, everybody you talk to. he says that only a few people are awake, and they live in a state of constant, total, amazement." in that sense, this movie is a movie about a man waking up. enjoy.
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