Meet Joe Black is a 1998 American romantic fantasy drama film directed and produced by Martin Brest, starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Claire Forlani. Celebrating his 65th birthday, businessman and devoted family man Bill Parrish is visited by Death, who wants to know what it's like to be human in return for giving Bill extra days of his life. The screenplay was written by Bo Goldman, Kevin Wade, Ron Osborn, and Jeff Reno, and is loosely based on the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday, an adaptation of the 1924 Italian play La morte in vacanza by Alberto Casella.

Meet Joe Black
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Brest
Screenplay by
Based onLa morte in vacanza
by Alberto Casella
Produced byMartin Brest
Starring
CinematographyEmmanuel Lubezki
Edited by
Music byThomas Newman
Production
company
City Light Films
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dates
Running time
181 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$90 million[1]
Box office$142.9 million[1]

Plot

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Media mogul Bill Parrish is contemplating a merger with another media giant. Meanwhile, his eldest daughter, Allison, is planning an elaborate 65th birthday party for him. His younger daughter Susan, a resident in internal medicine, has a relationship with Drew, a member of Bill's board.

As Bill contemplates Susan's planned marriage to Drew and realizes that she is not deeply in love, he suggests she wait to be swept off of her feet. When the company helicopter lands, he hears a mysterious voice, which he tries to ignore. Arriving in his office, Bill has pains in his chest and hears the voice again, saying, "Yes."

While studying in a coffee shop, Susan meets a vibrant young man, and they form a connection. Stunned, she departs without getting his name. Unbeknownst to her, directly afterward, he is struck fatally by multiple cars.

That evening, Bill hears the voice again and it summons him to a room. Materializing, the voice identifies itself as "Death" and now inhabits the young man's body. Death explains that Bill's impassioned speech to his daughter piqued his interest. Given Bill's "competence, experience, and wisdom", Death says that for as long as Bill will be his guide on Earth, Bill will not have to die. They both return to the dinner table and under pressure to make an introduction, Bill creates an impromptu name for the young man, introducing him to the family as "Joe Black." Joe Black does not seem to know how to drink or eat, or how to use food and utensils. He, however, learns to adapt.

Bill fails to keep events from going out of his control. Drew secretly conspires with Parrish Communications, capitalizing on Bill's strange behavior and reliance on Joe to convince the board of directors to vote Bill out as chairman. Using information from Bill's son-in-law, Quince, Drew pushes for merger approval which Bill now opposes.

Intrigued by Joe's naivete, Susan realizes he is different from the young man she met in the coffee shop. She falls deeply in love, while Joe is now under the influence of human desires and an attraction to her, and they have sex. Later, Bill sees them kissing.

Bill angrily confronts Joe about his relationship with Susan. He then suggests to Susan that Joe will not be around much longer. At Susan's hospital, Joe interacts with a terminally ill woman, who wishes to die to escape her constant physical pain. She realizes that Joe is part of her impending death. When Joe mentions that he loves Susan (whose care she is under), they discuss the meaning of life and she helps him understand the danger of meshing two worlds. When Joe asks if she is ready to go, she accedes and dies.

As Bill's birthday arrives, Joe declares his intention to take Susan with him. Bill pleads with Joe to recognize the meaning of true love, and to not steal Susan's life.

At the party, knowing his death is imminent, Bill makes peace with his daughters. Susan tells Joe she has loved him since the day in the coffee shop. Joe, realizing Susan loves the man in the coffee shop and not him, decides to allow her to live.

Quince apologizes to Bill for undermining the company, and Bill forgives him. Joe helps Bill regain control of his company, exposing Drew's underhanded business dealings to the board by claiming to be an agent of the Internal Revenue Service and threatening to put Drew in jail.

Susan and Bill later say goodbye. Fireworks begin, and on a hilltop above the party, Joe waits with tears in his eyes. Bill heads up to him, and they share their thoughts. As the fireworks explode in the distance, Susan watches Joe and Bill cross a nearby bridge and descend out of sight on the other side.

Susan stands stunned as "Joe" reappears alone and bewildered. He is again the young man from the coffee shop, uninjured and not comprehending where he is. Susan realizes that Bill is gone, and descends hand-in-hand with the young man toward the party.

Cast

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Production

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Filming

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Most of William Parrish's country mansion scenes were shot at the Aldrich Mansion in Rhode Island.

The penthouse interiors and Parrish Communications offices were sets built at the 14th Regiment Armory in the South Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.[2]

The coffee shop where Susan meets the young man is Broadway Restaurant, at 2664 Broadway and West 101st Street in New York's Manhattan. Principal photography began on 11 June 1997, and concluded on 12 November 1997.[3]

Versions

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A two-hour version was made to show on television and airline flights, by cutting most of the plotline involving Bill Parrish's business. Since Director Martin Brest derided this edit of his film and disowned it, the director's credit on this release used Hollywood pseudonym Alan Smithee.[4]

Release

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The film premiered as the closing night film of the Tokyo International Film Festival on 8 November 1998.[5]

Reception

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Box office

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Meet Joe Black opened in the United States and Canada on the weekend of 13-15 November 1998, and had a weekend gross of $15,017,995 ranking #3, behind The Waterboy's second weekend and the opening of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.[6]

While the film had a disappointing box office gross in the United States and Canada of $44,619,100, it fared much better internationally. Taking in an additional $98,321,000, the movie grossed a worldwide total of $142,940,100.[1]

As Meet Joe Black was one of the few films showing the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, it was reported that Star Wars fans bought tickets for the film, only to leave after the trailer showed.[7]

Critical response

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Meet Joe Black received mixed reviews from critics, with most complimenting the performances but criticizing the film's three-hour length, the slow pacing and the screenplay.[8] Roger Ebert gave it three stars, but disliked the peripheral story lines and overly drawn-out ending. He concluded that despite its flaws, "there's so much that's fine in this movie".[9] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that most of the characters were one-dimensional.[10] Anthony Hopkins received uniform praise for his performance, with Travers opining that Hopkins' Bill Parrish was the only fully realized character in the film; Mick LaSalle wrote that "Hopkins' acting is so emotionally full that the tiniest moments...ring with complexities of thought and feeling."[11] Brad Pitt, on the other hand, received a mixed response, with LaSalle calling his performance so bad "it hurts"[11] and James Berardinelli calling it "execrable".[8] Thomas Newman's score received critical acclaim; it is generally considered one of his best works.[12][13]

Meet Joe Black earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Remake or Sequel.[14]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 46% approval rating on 52 reviews, with an average score of 5.60/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Meet Joe Black is pretty to look at and benefits from an agreeable cast, but that isn't enough to offset this dawdling drama's punishing three-hour runtime."[15] On Metacritic, the film received a 43% score on 24 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[16] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore graded the film "A−" on scale of A to F.[17][18]

In retrospect, Brad Pitt was critical of his performance on the film: "That was the pinnacle of my…loss of direction and compass."[19]

References

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  1. ^ a b c "Meet Joe Black (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  2. ^ "Film Crews Are Generating The Magic and the Backlash". The New York Times. 6 July 1997.
  3. ^ "Meet Joe Black Filming Locations". Movie Locations. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  4. ^ Amy Wallace (15 January 2000). "Name of Director Smithee Isn't What It Used to Be". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 7 April 2019. Smithee's work, as was the airline version of Martin Brest's "Meet Joe Black."
  5. ^ Herskovitz, Jon (1 November 1998). "'Armageddon' opens 11th Tokyo film fest". Variety. Retrieved October 2, 2023.
  6. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for 13-15 November 1998". Box Office Mojo. 3 February 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  7. ^ "What Happened When The Phantom Menace's Trailer Was Shown In Theaters". CinemaBlend. November 25, 2014.
  8. ^ a b Berardinelli, James (1998). "Meet Joe Black (United States, 1998)". reelviews.net (movie review). Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (13 November 1998). "Meet Joe Black". Rogerebert.com (Movie Review). Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  10. ^ Travers, Peter (11 March 1998). "Meet Joe Black". Rolling Stone (Movie Review). Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  11. ^ a b LaSalle, Mick (13 November 1998). "Colorless 'Joe Black' / Brad Pitt's "Death" is lethally dull, but Hopkins breathes life into overly long romance". San Francisco Chronicle (Movie Review). Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  12. ^ Thomas Glorieux. "Meet Joe Black - Thomas Newman". Main Titles: Film. Retrieved 6 January 2024. William Parrish: I do think this is the lightning you're looking for
  13. ^ "Newman: Meet Joe Black". Movie Wave. Retrieved 6 January 2024.
  14. ^ "1999 Razzie Awards - nominations for worst remake". IMDb. Retrieved 6 January 2024.
  15. ^ "Meet Joe Black". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 June 2024.
  16. ^ "Meet Joe Black". Metacritic.
  17. ^ "Movie title search: BLACK". CinemaScore. Find Cinemascore. Archived from the original on 24 August 2019.
  18. ^ "Meet Joe Black - soundtrack by Thomas Newman". MFiles. Retrieved 6 January 2024.
  19. ^ Jeff Giles (16 September 2011). "Brad Pitt - the EW Interview". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 6 January 2024.
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