Shanley Versus Hollywood

I like John Patrick Shanley. I've read a number of his plays, which are often about raw emotions in a rather heightened environment. There's this one monologue where some guy is talking to his refrigerator... but that's another story.

As for the story at hand - Joe works at a medical products company, under fluourescent lights (okay, most people do, but here, it's an extreme condition), with an unreasonable boss (the always interesting-to-watch Dan Hedaya). He learns he has a "brain cloud" and has six months to live, so he quits his job and asks out the girl at the office (yes, in that order). The girl leaves - who wants to start something new with someone about to die? And then Joe is approached by the enigmatic but loaded Mr. Graynamore, who offers Joe the use of his corporate gold cards in return for heading out to a particular volcano and throwing himself in. As about the only good thing going for him, Joe accepts.

After a brief spending spree, the remainder of the movie is spent travelling to the island where the volcano exists, and then interacting with the natives on the way to "will he or won't he?". He meets the two daughters of Graynamore, one at a time, falling in the love with the second, which causes some predictable complications in the end.

Joe Versus the Volcano is written and directed by Shanley - his only film directing job to date, and after twelve years, perhaps it's not going to become his day job. Does that mean he's a bad director? Not necessarily, but I do feel a bit of a theatrical touch here. For the most part, I see it in moments of a character relating toward their environment, but I think what most people will pick up is the pacing. On stage, actors command a particular presence which demands the attention of the audience. But on screen, people have grown used to being catered to. I think the pacing is fine, despite being deliberately slow. The problem is there needed to be something more to take up the space. Many directors will explore spatial or other artistic ideas in the frame with this kind of pacing, but Shanley seems to leave the camera department to come up with good, but often traditional shots.

What did Shanley do in switching to the film idiom? I wonder if he dumbed it down a little. I'd have expected a little more exploration of these life decisions, some more depth in the commentary on what modern society does to the human soul. It's not as bad a movie as some people will think, but it's not what it could have been.

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