Joe Versus the Volcano

This is a brief ode to what is, in my opinion, one of the most underappreciated films in history.

JoeVtitleI’ve watched “Joe Versus the Volcano” perhaps twenty to thirty times. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that I enjoy it more each time I view it. Most movies can’t hold up to multiple viewings. As we lose interest in the story and characters, our attention wanders to reveal gaps in logic, bad lines, and other assorted flaws.

Not so with “Joe”.

I bribed them to sing a song that would drive us insane and make our hearts swell and burst.

Here’s a movie that somehow presents profound philosophical questions about life and death, God and meaning, yet still manages to be outrageously funny. The scenes between Joe Banks and his boss, Mr. Waturi, could be a movie on their own. (There’s something strangely familiar about that workplace. I think I worked there. In fact, I think most of us have.)

I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?

The performances, by one of the more eclectic casts you’ll ever see, are uniformly wonderful. It marks the first pairing of what could be this generation’s Tracy and Hepburn: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Ms. Ryan gives three of her best performances. Lloyd Bridges, Dan Hedaya, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Ossie Davis. Great, great, great, great, great.

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.

The best performance of all, however, is by a guy named Barry McGovern, whose role is listed simply as “luggage salesman.” I would have given that guy an Oscar.

Very exciting… as a luggage problem!

Even the music is terrific. The Rascals, Del Vikings, and Sergio Mendes all in one movie? So great. Best of all is Eric Burdon’s passionately brilliant version of “16 Tons” that introduces the film.

Nobody knows anything, Joe. We’ll take this leap, and we’ll see. We’ll jump, and we’ll see. That’s life, right?

In closing, I’ll add that the film’s writer/director (a true auteur), John Patrick Shanley, is one of the most gifted artists of our time. As evidence, he also wrote “Moonstruck” and “Doubt” (play and film). That’s good stuff.

Dear God, whose name I do not know – thank you for my life. I forgot how BIG… thank you. Thank you for my life.

I could go on and, if you were here before me, I would. Better, I’d suggest we watch it. It won’t be the last time for me.

I have no response to that.


Patricia: I wonder where we’ll end up?
Joe: Away from the things of man, my love. Away from the things of man.

9 thoughts on “Joe Versus the Volcano

    • Well said. I know exactly what you’re talking about. JVV deals with soul-sized issues as opposed to most of the fluff being churned out through the cineplexes. Yet it’s extravagantly entertaining. I can’t think of many films that have achieved that feat. Thanx for the comment.

  1. I saw this movie years ago, and I remember liking it, but don’t remember many details, definitely going to watch it again, thanks Rick

  2. Still one of the top movies for me as well. I also find new tidbits with each viewing. Timeless quotes that I have fun using with my wife. Genius lost on the masses.
    My latest finds come up with an improved TV, picking up details I missed before.
    I noticed in the discussion between Joe and Mr. Graynamore about Joe’s heroism as a fireman, there is a shot of smoke wafting by outside the window with a brick wall backdrop. And an alarm briefly sounds in the distance.
    Something I noticed but didn’t pay attention to it before. It’s the little details that really add polish to the whole movie.

    • Great observations! That’s a huge difference between a truly wonderful movie and just a very good one. As I said in the post, after repeated viewings, most movies get stale and I find myself looking for failings. With JVV, I always seem to find something new and fascinating. I did not, however, catch what you did. I’ll go back and look for it. There are so many of those little flashes of brilliance throughout.

      My wife and I also quote it to each other constantly. I’d be willing to bet that a week doesn’t go by without one great line being used. One that always seems appropriate is, “It’s always going to be something with you, isn’t it?”

      Thanks for the insights…

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