“Joe, nobody knows anything,” observed actress Meg Ryan, as she teetered at the edge of a fiery abyss in the misunderstood fantasy film “Joe Versus the Volcano,” in which she played the soul-sick Patricia Graynamore opposite Tom Hanks’ “Brain Cloud” afflicted Joe Banks. In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, she said, “Nobody knows anything. We’ll take this leap, and we’ll see. We’ll jump and we’ll see. That’s life.”
Ryan may not be jumping into any volcanoes this Thursday morning, but as the recipient of the Sonoma Salute Award at this year’s Sonoma International Film Festival, she will definitely be jumping into the thick of festival madness as the annual event kicks off first full day with a screening of Ryan’s directorial debut, “Ithaca,” in which she stars alongside Sam Shepard, son Jack Quaid (“The Hunger Games”) and Tom Hanks, her co-star in “You’ve Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and, of course, the aforementioned volcano movie.
Though Ryan first caught mainstream attention in a dramatic supporting role in 1986’s “Top Gun,” her career has been defined by a string of hit romantic comedies she made in the late ‘80s and much of the ‘90s, the highlight being 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally,” featuring Ryan publically making loud, sexually suggestive sounds in one of the most famous moments in the history of comedy films.
Though she quickly became one of the highest paid actresses of her time, at one point commanding $15 million a film, Ryan is less known today as a shrewd businesswoman and Hollywood power-player – which she has quietly proven herself to be – than as a romantic comedy queen with a perky-quirky smile and that signature wrinkled nose. In recent years, she’s spoken out against ageism in the movie business, decrying the industry’s obsession with youth and personal appearance.
Through it all, she’s made it clear she still has plenty to give as an actress, and also would like to take the reins as a director from time to time. After a number of high profile projects were announced, and then shelved, Ryan finally made the dream happen last year, directing the independent production of “Ithaca,” an adaptation of William Saroyan’s “The Human Comedy.”
So while it might be true, as she once noted while standing above a molten lake of steaming lava, that “nobody knows anything,” she will arguably be proving the opposite when she steps on stage at the Sebastiani to show off her film and accept her award.
Meg Ryan, it appears, has always known exactly where she was going.
“Ithaca” screens Thursday, March 31, at 3:30 p.m., at the Sebastiani Theater. A Q&A with Ryan, and presentation of the Sonoma Tribute Award, will take place immediately following the film.
This article originally ran in the Sonoma Index-Tribune