Roger Ebert has a weblog? I had no idea. I’ve really missed seeing him on Ebert & Roper the last couple years.
His most recent post mentions the 1990 movie Joe vs. The Volcano, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, saying it’s “a film that was a failure in every possible way except that I loved it.” That pretty well sums up my opinion, too. For those of you who haven’t seen it—which is likely to be most of you—let me fill you in. Tom Hanks plays Joe Banks, a former fireman turned hopeless hypochondriac working in a soul-sucking job. His doctor tells him he has a “brain cloud,” an incurable and fatal disease. He has six months to live, “My advice to you is: live it well.”
Joe quits his job, tells off his boss (played brilliantly by Dan Hedaya), and asks his co-worker DeDe out on a date. DeDe is played by Meg Ryan, in the first of her three roles. The next day, a wealthy man makes him an offer he can’t refuse. If Joe agrees to jump into a volcano on a small South Pacific island, the man will give Joe all the money he needs to live the life of his dreams for the next six months. You see, the island has rich mineral deposits that the man needs, while the native islanders need to appease the volcano with a voluntary sacrifice (only none of them want to do it). Joe agrees and off we go.
“A failure in every possible way,” right? It sounds like a complete disaster. And there’s more… Meg Ryan plays both of the rich man’s daughters, the chief of the native clan is played by Abe Vigoda, and one of the movie’s best scenes is when Joe buys luggage for the trip. How could this possibly work? Maybe as a screwball comedy or with lots of camp. Yet the result is neither; it’s a really charming, honest, good-hearted movie. Odd, yes, but charmingly so.
I fully realize that not everyone feels the same way about this movie. It seems to be very polarizing. It’s surprising, though, how many comments on Ebert’s post say basically the same thing. As one commenter put it, “I thought I was the only person alive who loved this movie.” Watch it. I suspect you will either hate it or have it become a real comfort movie, one you want to go back and watch again year after year.