Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) Poster

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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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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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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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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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Another Visit With An Old friend
boblipton21 May 2020
After the critical and financial success of MOONSTRUCK, its writer, John Patrick Shanley negotiated a deal in which he got to direct this movie. It's a glorious mess.

Once Tom Hanks was a brave fireman, but the stress got to him. Now he works as the advertising librarian of a medical supply company ("Home of the Anal Probe") on Staten Island, with Dan Hedaya as his boss. Hanks doesn't feel well. He spends all his money on doctors, until Dr. Robert stack tells him he has a "brain cloud", a rare disease with no symptoms that will kill him in three months. Joe is broke, so when Lloyd Nolan hires him to jump into a volcano on a Polynesian island, he says okay.

It's beautifully cast, with Meg Ryan in their first pairing. It also has Ossie Davis -- in an Armani tux! -- Abe Vigoda as a Polynesian chief, Barry McGovern as a rabid luggage salesman, Nathan Lane as Vigoda's side man, and in tiny cameos, Jim Hutton and Amanda Plummer.

The movie contains some great symbolism of a crooked road and Shanley's trademark big full moon, and there are references to bravery and losing one's soul that makes you think there's some deep meaning to all of it, but if there is, it gets lost in the nonsense and the great score. Hanks' performance is deliberately peculiar and passive, until the yacht he and Miss Ryan are on gets struck by a lightning bolt and sinks. Miss Ryan offers three sharply mannered performances as the women who interact with Hanks. I think Shanley was trying for a "Princess Bride" fable of a tale told to a small child. However, like that movie, there's so much funny nonsense going on, there's no real moral, just enormously entertaining bits.
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One of the most overlooked movies ever
ChrisDickerson29 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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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 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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Agree with previous comments
UACW25 February 1999
This is about near-death experiences. They teach you something - about the immediacy of life. About forgetting the rat race and enjoying. It all becomes clear when you've been "on the edge". When things appear in stark contrasts. When there is only black and white - light and dark. To see the sun shining though a window. To gaze upon a loved one and just watch them breathe. I have seen this movie over 1,000 times and it still feeds my soul.
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Top Five of All Time.
pmtelefon14 June 2019
Is that an overstatement? No. "Joe Versus the Volcano" consistently moves me in ways few movies ever have. It is a beautifully told story with a great message. This movie is so good that the two or three clunker jokes are easily forgiven. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are very good but it's Ossie Davis and Lloyd Bridges that steal the show acting-wise. They both deliver knock-out performances. "Joe Versus the Volcano" also has terrific music. One great song after another. This movie is great stuff all around. (I saw this movie when it first came at the Westbury, NY Drive In.)
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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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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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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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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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Combines a life-affirming message with "in-jokes" for movie lovers.
Caryn-28 March 1999
This is my favorite film for a number of reasons. One reason is that it includes _homages_ to many classic films. For instance, the very first shot of the factory immediately brings to mind Chaplin's _Modern Times_ and Lang's _Metropolis_. The first minutes of the film, until Joe is called into the doctor's office, are filmed almost in black and white. The tones are all grey, black, or taupe, with some glaring whites. Then the door to the doctor's office opens to show warm leather, paneling, and firelight, and it's a sudden reminder of _The Wizard of Oz_, when Dorothy opens the door into Oz and the movie changes from black and white to color.

I also look for the "crooked path," which shows up four times at different parts of the movie. When Joe says, "We've come a long way on a crooked path," we know exactly what he's referring to!

I could go on with these details for pages, but I don't want to leave out the main reason this is my favorite film. It is one of the most life-affirming movies I have ever seen. When I had received devastatingly bad news about my health, this is the movie I watched, and it helped get me over the hump and start integrating the condition into my life.

Movies like this are one of the reasons for having movies at all, and I will continue watching it, as I return again and again to favorite books, for the rest of my life.
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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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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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The best of the Hanks/Ryan romantic comedies is the first
george.schmidt10 April 2003
JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO (1990) *** Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Dan Hedaya, Ossie Davis, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Amanda Plummer. John Patrick Shanley wrote and made his directorial debut in this screwball comedy about doomed Hanks making a journey to a tropical island to be a volcano sacrifice and winds up falling in love with Ryan (in three humdinger roles) along the way. Silly but warm at times. Look sharp for Nathan Lane as a native. Best scene : Hanks hugging a Great Dane.
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Good message, decent movie, albeit really odd
Wuchakk8 June 2014
That pretty much sums up this 1990 film starring Tom Hanks as a miserable man stuck in an uninspiring job. After learning he's going to die in six months, he accepts an offer to live it up for a couple of weeks and sacrifice himself in a volcano on some nondescript Pacific island.

Right off the bat, the movie tips off that it's more fantasy than reality. There's a great message about not selling your life -- your dreams -- for whatever pathetic wage they're offering at the local factory or whatever the case. But the final act fizzles out in Giligan's Island cartooniness.

Meg Ryan co-stars in a three-pronged role.

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This movie is delightful
fopfopfop24 November 2019
This movie is funny, well cast, its a real hidden gem
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Subtle and metaphoric
L_Miller12 December 2000
A lot of the negative reviews here involve the word 'slow'. Slow to get to the point, slow to get started. That is an important clue to deciding whether or not to see this movie, and how you feel about it afterward.

This film doesn't have a plot so much as it has a journey. Like all 'journey' movies (no, not the 80s band, eeew), if the path the characters are taking doesn't resonate with you, the film will seem to drag on and on.

The metaphors and path of JVtV (for me) center around the idea of belonging and believing. Joe neither belongs nor believes in his life at the beginning of the movie. The terminal illness gives him something to believe in (his life will soon end) and Lloyd Bridges' proposal gives him to belong to (the quest to jump in the volcano). By the end of the movie, he belives his life is worthwhile and he belongs to himself.

I think this is the best of the Hanks-Ryan movies ("You've Got Mail" being the worst) because it lets them be themselves and not just a cutesy couple. Hanks was still principally a comic actor at this point, and his sardonic persona, especially turned on himself ("Whenever I start to talk about myself I get bored.") and Meg Ryan's self-involved detachment ("I have no response to that.") are what made them an appealing pairing in the first place.

Anyway, if you get a chance, give it a chance. One note - I think you're more likely to enjoy this movie if you watch it alone. The metaphors are easier to see and appreciate without another presence to distract you.
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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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A classic fable
connmoore15 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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Quirky comedy mostly for the stars
SimonJack2 May 2015
"Joe Versus the Volcano" is a mixed bag of comedy, romance, fantasy and adventure. The comedy is a little on the dark side initially, but then brings in some outlandish stuff for laughs toward the end, including some hilarious history. One suspects, however, that many modern viewers (i.e., younger) may not catch that. For instance, Patricia (one of three characters that Meg Ryan plays very well) reads the history of Waponi Woo, the fictitious Pacific Island they are sailing toward. It was settled 1,800 years ago after a Roman galley with a crew of druids and Jews was caught in a huge storm off Carthage (in the Mediterranean Sea off North Africa). "They were swept a thousand miles off course and wound up on the wrong side of the horn of Africa (in the Indian Ocean). Thinking they were returning to Rome, they sailed deep into the South Pacific and finally ended up colonizing a lightly populated Polynesian Island." No wonder the Waponi's were known to lack a sense of direction. But, as outlandish as the storm is that carried them more than a couple thousand miles away, the crew makeup is even more hilarious. The Romans had just conquered the druid areas of England in the first century, and by the second century, the druids had all but disappeared. While the Bible tells us of the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, the ancient Jews were not a seafaring nation So, a Roman galley with a crew of druids and Jews would be a truly hilarious fictitious arrangement.

Then, as Joe (played by Tom Hanks) and Patricia come ashore, the natives are singing a song to the tune of "Hava Nagila." ("Let Us Rejoice"), a modern Jewish festival song. Patricia concluded reading the background on the island and people, "Thus was born the Waponi culture, a mixture of Polynesian, Celtic, Hebrew and Latin influences."

The story is quirky and the parts of the plot don't seem to blend together well. The writing is weak and the direction and editing aren't quite in sync. The best thing of the movie is the cast and the performances of all. It's especially a good vehicle for the talents of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Ryan steals the scenes she is in as DeDe and Angelica, because we know that that's Meg Ryan under the quirky makeup. The movie is fun to watch once, but that's about it.
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Neo smart fable with social criticism!!!
elo-equipamentos2 April 2019
This picture has to be divided in two parts, since the openings credits where the young Joe has three priceless moments, on the office bothered by buzzing lights, fed up with the chief, when received from the doctor the results of the lab test over a brain's shadow a sort of incurable illness remains a few mounts to live, until the final deal with Hanks and Bridges, an innovative dark comedy, with several social criticism as we live today, the mechanic form of life lived by the most on great cities, working like a robot for few dollar for a week, from then on the movie sunk in a quicksand, predicable sometimes boring, the final part was a neo fable, a kind of fairy tale, walking in a surreal ground, still has fine moments, enjoyable, funny and watchable, but could be better!!


First watch: 1995 / How many: 4 / Source: TV-Cable TV-DVD / Rating: 7.5
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