Challenge Week 51: Joe Versus the Volcano

What a goofy, weird little comedy. When my cousins were deciding what films to give me, Kevin scoffed at this suggestion from his wife, a movie she has a soft spot for and he apparently thinks is trash. Heh. I’d been meaning to see it for a while as I went through a major Meg Ryan phase for a while but somehow skipped this one, so I encouraged her to go through with the recommendation, and I’m glad I did.

While I probably didn’t love it like she does, I did quite enjoy its quirks. Tom Hanks is an employee in the epitome of dystopian office jobs – hundreds of glum employees shuffling to a dark, dank box of a building to do boring, pointless jobs and then shuffle back to their tiny, dank apartments. Hanks is a hypochondriac on top of that, and soon hears from his doctor that he’ll die of a mysterious condition within a few months. Then a mysterious man shows up at his apartment and offers him unlimited funds to enjoy (leading to a great section as Ossie Davis drives him around the town and helps him buy a new wardrobe) and a cruise to the South Pacific, but the catch is at the end of his vacation, he’s got to sacrifice himself to appease the island gods of the volcano.

I certainly didn’t expect anything as dark or satirical as the dystopian sections, which brought to mind stuff like Brazil or The Trial, and then you just kind of have to give yourself over to the absurdity of the rest of the story, as Hanks interacts with three women played by Meg Ryan in various degrees of outrageous disguise, gets shipwrecked, and finally arrives to pay his debt to the volcano gods. This last bit is the most ridiculous but I mean, by this point, why not just go with it?

Meg Ryan plays three roles, as I said – the main love interest for most of the film, but also two earlier women, and not knowing that going in made for a pretty weird sensation. I kept thinking “is that Meg Ryan? It kind of looks like her, but also not…” It was really confusing, but once I read that she played all three, kind of awesome that she did that and went for such fun, over the top characterizations.

Perhaps strangely for such a slight film, it actually asks some deep questions regarding self-sacrifice and keeping your word even when you’re lied to, and that theme is treated fairly seriously. When I looked up John Patrick Shanley, I was a little taken aback to see that his only other directorial credit is 2008’s Doubt, a film entirely dissimilar from this in tone, but maybe Shanley’s interest in Catholicism (a subject he deals with more often in his main job as playwright) is pulling in themes like this even when the surface seems totally absurdist.

Stats and stuff…

1990, USA
written and directed by John Patrick Shanley
starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya, Ossie Davis

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Joe Versus the Volcano entered my chart:

Joe Versus the Volcano > Flags of Our Fathers
Joe Versus the Volcano < Lovely to Look At
Joe Versus the Volcano > Ikiru
Joe Versus the Volcano > The Illusionist (2010)
Joe Versus the Volcano > A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
Joe Versus the Volcano < Fantastic Mr. Fox
Joe Versus the Volcano < Manhattan Murder Mystery
Joe Versus the Volcano < House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Joe Versus the Volcano < Topsy-Turvy
Joe Versus the Volcano < 3 Women
Joe Versus the Volcano < The Host (2006)
Joe Versus the Volcano < Brotherhood of the Wolf

Final #1052 out of 3740 (72%)

It is now my #1 John Patrick Shanley film, my #8 Tom Hanks film, my #2 Meg Ryan films (this is inaccurate as I haven’t gotten to many of her films on my rerank project and they should be higher), and my #8 film of 1990.

Joe Versus the Volcano was recommended by my cousin Beth.

A Few More Screencaps…