Meet Joe Black (1998): A Minimalist, Philosophical Film About Life and Love
Score 85%Score 85%
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Meet Joe Black is an interesting romantic drama with a supernatural twist and was inspired by Mitchell Leisen’s 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday. Directed by Martin Brest, Meet Joe Black was his follow up after winning a Golden Globe for Scent of a Woman. Reuniting Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, the film also stars Claire Forlani and Marcia Gay Harden.
Love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without. I say, fall head over heels. Find someone you can love like crazy and who will love you the same way back.
Meet Joe Black has William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), an almost 65-year-old businessman at its center. Bill is an astute capitalist with a loving family. However, his health is in decline and his company under siege from its competitors. By his side are his two loving daughters, Susan (Claire Forlani) and Allison. The former is the apple of her father’s eye and the latter is quite aware that she isn’t the favourite, but loves her father wholeheartedly nonetheless.
Susan is involved with Drew (Jake Weber), her father’s business associate who Bill doesn’t want as a future son in law. Instead, he encourages Susan to“find someone you can love like crazy, and who’ll love you the same way back.”
Prophetic words as Susan meets a handsome stranger in a café and they instantly connect. Without exchanging names, Susan and the stranger part ways, both feeling smitten and excited about the future. Unbeknownst to Susan, the young man is killed soon after their meeting and his body is inhabited by Death (AKA A Grim Reaper).
Death visits William and confirms his time on earth is up. William, however, is not ready to say his final goodbyes. As a bargain of sorts, Death agrees to postpone William’s death in exchange for allowing him to learn about and experience life. Death, named Joe Black (Brad Pitt), enters the Parish household and becomes William’s shadow. Joe is also reunited with Susan. Matters are complicated as Bill’s death draws closer and Joe discovers love and human emotion while cloaked as the grim reaper.
In my opinion, Meet Joe Black has the potential to be quite a divisive film. I think viewers will both respond to it and therefore enjoy the romance and stillness of the film. Or on the contrary, find it slow, dull and convoluted. I can see an argument for both perspectives. Meet Joe Black rests I believe less on the premise (which is quite absurd if I’m being honest) and more in the performances. In this film, Anthony Hopkins easily runs circles around every other actor. He is masterful in his portrayal of a man who understands that his time on earth is limited. He is thoughtful, measured and yet layered with passion and determination.
I love you now. I love you always.
Alongside him, Brad Pitt has the role that grounds the film. Meet Joe Black hinges on his ability to play Death, to imbue the character with depth and allow the audience to connect with him as he experiences life, emotions and even food for the first time. Unfortunately, Pitt’s performance is hit and miss. There are times when he’s a delight to watch and there are others where his stillness feels awkward and uncomfortable. As an actor, he seems overly aware of his performance, the cadence of his voice and his physical movements. As a viewer, I felt that awareness and at times it removed me from the film.
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Despite that, however, his chemistry with Claire Forlani is sweet and Susan’s growing emotions which parallel Joe’s does captivate and draw you in. It’s a complicated dynamic as Death discovers love and has no reference for what to do with the emotions. In addition, William knows who Joe is and is also helpless to stop a romance he knows is doomed.
Besides the central dramatic tension, Meet Joe Black also has a subplot involving the hostile takeover of William’s company, as well as the intricate relationship between William and his eldest daughter. Both these elements are underdeveloped in the film and the takeover aspect, in particular, might have been dropped completely. Drew is very thinly drawn and his demise serves only as a foil to Joe’s development as a character. Marcia Gay Harden is wonderful though and manages to play out a few very emotional, memorable scenes for herself.
Meet Joe Black is romantic at its core. It’s emotional and manages to tug quite effectively at the heartstrings. The pacing of the film, as well as uneven performances from the cast, however, make it less memorable. Despite that, Meet Joe Black was one of my favourite films in 1998 and I own it on DVD.
If you haven’t seen Meet Joe Black, I would recommend giving it a go. The premise is quite unique, even if the execution isn’t perfect.
Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani are also incredibly beautiful on screen. So if you needed some additional encouragement, their perfect aesthetic is a sight to behold.
Where to Watch: Meet Joe Black is available for sale on Vudu, iTunes, and Amazon (affiliate link). It also streams on Amazon.
Content Note: Meet Joe Black is rated PG-13 for an accident scene, some sexuality, and brief strong language.
Have you watched Meet Joe Black? What did you think? Comment below and let me know!
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures, City Light Films
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
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