Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ebert Thoughts ‘12—Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) ***½

PG, 102 min.
Director/Writer: John Patrick Shanley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya, Ossie Davis, Barry McGovern, Amanda Plummer, Nathan Lane

There’s nothing like a little existential romance to brighten your day. My wife was feeling blue when I decided to put this one in and soon her day was bright again. That’s a little strange just because “Joe Versus the Volcano” is more than a little bit strange, but therein lays its charm.

This movie, the first of three romantic comedies pairing Tom Hanks with Meg Ryan, was not a huge hit when it was released. It rubbed mainstream audiences the wrong way. This is probably because it begins in such a somber manner, but there is so much humor to be found in the depressing work world we are introduced to at the beginning of this wonderful film. There’s the boss who keeps saying the same things over and over, the fluorescent lights, the hole in the wall where the coffee is located.

American audiences have been trained to expect their films to be something I call Hollywood realistic, which isn’t realistic at all, but more like tha fantasy we’d like life to be. “Joe Versus the Volcano” never attempts to be either Hollywood realistic or really realistic. From its production design to Ryan’s triple role, this movie moves in a different realm of artistry than most movies. Director John Patrick Shanley is willing to throw in just about any detail to make a point. There are so many little details for the audience to discover throughout multiple screenings.

And then there’s the ending. How perfect that the guy who has been diagnosed with a terminal “brain cloud” never bothered to get a second opinion. I just love this movie.

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