If you’ve ever had a terrible job and wondered why you didn’t just chuck it, you’ll understand the opening scenes of Joe Versus the Volcano. If you’ve ever asked yourself about the meaning of life and your role in the big picture, you’ll identify with the main character in this film. And if you enjoy unusual stories about individuals who take a journey and are tested along the way, you’ll be keenly interested in this adult fairy tale.
Joe (Tom Hanks) is a very unhappy young man who earns $300 a week working for a dreadful medical supplies company. His boss (Dan Hedaya) is a tyrant who enjoys harassing him and the other employees, including DeDe (Meg Ryan), a secretary. On a visit to a doctor (Robert Stack), Joe, a hypochondriac, learns that he has a “brain cloud,” an incurable condition that will kill him in six months.
Joe promptly quits his job. Then an eccentric millionaire (Lloyd Bridges) offers him unlimited expense money if he will jump into a volcano on a South Pacific island in order to appease the fire god. And before dying a hero, he will have 20 days to “live like a king.” The millionaire, in turn, will get the rights to a mineral produced on the island.
Given a mission to fulfill, Joe comes vibrantly alive. A chauffeur (Ossie Davis) in New York City helps bring him into focus as a well-dressed man of means. In Los Angeles, he dines with Angelica (Meg Ryan), a soul-sick young woman who can’t appreciate her privileged existence. Then on the yacht bound for Polynesia, he falls in love with Patricia (Meg Ryan), the millionaire’s daughter. They survive a typhoon at sea and arrive at their destination.
The islanders, the Waponi Woo, are famed for “having a peculiar love of orange soda and no sense of direction.” The tribe’s chief (Abe Vigoda) is glad to see Joe since no one else is willing to lay down his life for the benefit of the community. In the moment of truth while standing on the edge of the volcanic crater, Joe makes up his mind about the most important things in life.
Joe Versus the Volcano is a wild, weird, and wonderful movie for seekers of all types. Director John Patrick Shanley characterized this film as “a yarn about courage and a man’s soul. This is the story of a man coming back to life on a journey that takes him halfway around the world to the edge of great delight, to the brink of an exploding volcano.”