“Nobody knows anything, Joe. We’ll take this leap, and we’ll see. We’ll jump, and we’ll see. That’s life, right?”
Back in the day, before anyone got mail or was sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan starred in this little romantic comedy about a dude who jumps into a volcano. No really.
I have loved this movie since I first saw it in the theater in 1990, and I love it still. None of the other Hanks/Ryan movies live up to this one, as far as I’m concerned. Oh, they may be a bit more mainstream and less surreal, but they will never hold a candle to one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, starring the greatest romantic comedy couple of the 1990s. Yeah, I said it.
Oh, and Meg Ryan plays three roles.
I decided to write about this little gem mainly because I don’t think it’s appreciated enough. Not to knock Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail, but I think a lot of people overlook this one, because it’s the movie with the funny name and the even funnier premise. But at the center of it is a heart of gold, complete with a super sappy life lesson.
What’s It All About?
Joe is a regular guy who works at a horrible company, in a dingy basement that has no windows and is lit with fluorescent lights. He always feels sick, he has a crush on the secretary (Meg Ryan#1) but is too afraid to say anything, and he daydreams of a better life, but is stuck in his sad, grey world… until the day he’s diagnosed with a brain cloud (yep).
Everything changes for Joe! He tells off his boss, he quits his job, and he asks Meg Ryan #1 out on a date. The next day… a rich eccentric guy played by Lloyd Bridges comes over Joe’s house to offer him the opportunity to “live like a king, die like a man” by jumping into a big volcano on a little island called Waponi Wu.
There’s a reason Rich Guy wants this to happen, and it involves superconductors and mineral rights, but most importantly the natives of the island drink a lot of orange soda. Yes, you read that correctly.
If you don’t love this movie already, stop reading. You’ll never love it. If you do love it… stop reading and go watch it, ’cause I’m not telling you what happens.
This is a smart movie. It’s a modern fairy tale. It’s chock full of foreshadowing, witty, self-referencing lines, and visual symbols/cues. It seems like there’s a reason for everything in this movie, from a desk lamp to the bottom of a shoe, and it makes me feel like I’m watching something that was made with a lot of love. The movie is extremely rewatchable, because you totally won’t catch most of the stuff the first few times through.
Now, we all know that Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks have good chemistry, but when this movie first came out they were an unknown quantity. Just remember that when you’re watching and saying to yourself “well, duh they’re great together.” We knew nothing at the time. It was a whole new world!
And be on the lookout for memorable performances from Actors You Probably Recognize. Besides Lloyd Bridges, Ossie Davis, Abe Vigoda, Amanda Plummer, and Dan Hedaya are all in here, chewing scenery along with some of the best of the romantic comedy supporting characters the genre has seen.
Not So Much
Joe Versus the Volcano is definitely a fantastic movie, and I mean that in the “this movie is pure fantasy” sense. The fantasy elements – things I mentioned before, like repeated imagery and surreal events – work wonderfully, as far as I’m concerned, but they are definitely not staples of your typical romantic comedy. Those expecting a more grounded-in-reality movie, like the other two Hanks/Ryan team ups, will be pretty disappointed. I mention this stuff here in the “negative” category, because I can see it being a deal breaker for some people.
Honestly, if you can get past the ridiculous idea that this is a man with a brain cloud who jumps into a volcano, well. There’s not much to dislike about this one.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I love this movie. It’s my favorite of the Hanks/Ryan movies, and one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time. The fantasy works for me, but it may not work for everyone.
Twenty-one years after I first saw it, I can quote most of the movie and I actually reference it pretty often in my daily life. It’s weird, and trippy, and surreal, not unlike another favorite of mine, LA Story. If you’re willing to give something a little stranger a try, you won’t be disappointed.