Film Review: Joe Versus the Volcano – 6/10

‘Dear God, whose name I do not know – thank you for my life…’

Even in the wild world of ’80s and ’90s cinema, Joe Versus the Volcano must have been a tough sell. A film about a dying man throwing himself into a volcano sounds like it comes from the European art world rather than a mainstream comedy. There is absolutely no way this film would be made in the year of our lord 2022. Even with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan…

Joe (Hanks) is drifting through life living in Staten Island and commuting to a shitty job that he hates. Upon receiving a diagnosis that promises certain death, Hanks is persuaded by a shadowy figure named Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges) to sacrifice himself to the volcano gods on some kind of remote island. Along the way, Joe will encounter a wise driver (Ossie Davis), a dedicated luggage salesman (Barry McGovern) and three different incarnations of Meg Ryan. Lovely stuff.

A bizarre premise then from writer-director John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck, Congo, Doubt – eclectic to say the least), but an intriguing one. Upon reading the synopsis to Joe Versus the Volcano, my first thought is that this premise sounds too dark for a mainstream audience, and so it proved with a modest commercial return and middling reviews. For those of us that enjoy the darker side of life; however, there is much to enjoy here – particularly in the first third of the movie in which a mopey but irresistible Hanks really leans into his sad sack character.

Elsewhere, McGovern and Davis excel when playing alongside a comic performer as talented as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan absolutely throws herself into all three of her disparate roles. Sure, the whole thing is too weird and the plot too rushed for Joe Versus the Volcano to really hit the heights, but as a curio for Hanks completists, Shanley’s movie is pretty essential.

When people are reaching for a movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Joe Versus the Volcano will never be that movie, and that’s a shame because there is a lot to recommend it. Good stuff.