That Thing You Do! (1996)
Hanks's One Hit Wonders
Next, this "Oneders", with the O-N-E, it doesn't work. It's confusing. From now on, you boys'll just be... simply The Wonders - Mr. White
Where now days if you want to make it in the music industry you apply to go on a TV talent show in the hope of winning a recording contract there once was a time where you formed a garage band and played a few local venues in the hope that one day you will be spotted. And that is what "That Thing You Do!" is sort of about a movie not only starring Tom Hanks but also saw him write the story as well as direct. It is a little more than just about how a band is discovered, it is the story of a band who were "One Hit Wonders" and who learned the hard way that the music industry is not the jewel encrusted life they imagined. And to be honest "That Thing You Do!" is entertaining, flawed but entertaining with its nostalgic feel as well as mix of humour and drama which feels every ounce a Tom Hanks movie.
It's the 1960s and Jazz loving drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott - Because I Said So) is asked to play a gig for The Oneders when their drummer Chad (Giovanni Ribisi) breaks his arm. Switching the beat of one of their songs up to an up tempo number the band suddenly have a hit on their hands, although singer/ songwriter Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech - Sex and Lies in Sin City) is not too happy with what Guy has done to his ballad. After winning a local talent concert and a regular slot at a local diner The Oneders are discovered finding themselves being signed up by Mr. White (Tom Hanks - Toy Story) to the Play Tone record label. But whilst fame is exciting they soon discover that life in a band is not all it is made out to be as Mr. White exploits their song and youth appeal to the max.
Over the course of music history there have been countless "One Hit Wonders" and the storyline to "That Thing You Do!" is basically a fictional account of a band who experience being "One Hit Wonders. It takes us from the band playing in some local school hall talent show through to being discovered by a manager and on to a major record label where they hit the road touring whilst their song climbs the charts. But like so many "One Hit Wonders" whilst this journey to fame starts of exciting things don't work out so well as artistic differences and distractions cause issues. It is a simple storyline with no surprises at all, you can tell who will end up causing trouble, who will leave when they meet an attractive blonde and so forth but it is entertaining.
The reason it is entertaining is because in this simplistic tale there is some depth whilst you appreciate that the music industry is not such a glorious place. It doesn't take long for you to realise that Mr. White who signs The Oneders to the Play Tone label and immediately changes their name to "The Wonders" only views them as a product to make as much money off of as possible before they implode. And at the same time you appreciate how disillusioned someone who cares about making original music can become when they begin to realise they are being used, as is the case in Jimmy who through out the movie just wants to record a new record, battling Mr. White who just wants to exploit the bands 15 minutes of fame. It may not be the most revealing and insightful of movies but what is insinuated in "That Thing You Do!" is not that far from the truth or what the truth was.
And to add to the reason that "That Thing You Do!" is entertaining is because it skips along at a perfect pace mixing drama with humour as well as recreating a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Watching the band getting excited when they hear their song on the radio for the first time is such a wonderful scene, slightly amusing but still real. And as we watch them become famous and appear in a film as well as on TV that old fashioned style rings so true and I half expected that the film they were cast in was going to feature Elvis Presley it was that sort of cheesy beach party style. It simply works and never once becomes boring.
But sadly whilst "That Thing You Do!" never becomes boring it does become flawed as it tries to find some form of closure. Now in a way there is an element to this which rings true such as Jimmy finally reaching breaking point when it comes to not being able to record his music whilst Lenny becomes distracted by an attractive blond. But it almost feels a little cliched when suddenly we have this romantic ending which whilst hinted at early on in the movie still feels cheesy, in fact it has the feel and look of something which should be in a Tom Hanks rom-com and not an entertaining movie about a group of "One Hit Wonders".
Despite being flawed "That Thing You Do!" does have a terrific cast be it Tom Hanks as the bands pushy manager Mr. White through to Steve Zahn who brings plenty of comedy to the story as woman mad guitarist Lenny. But it is in the casting of Tom Everett Scott as drummer Guy and Johnathon Schaech as singer/song writer Jimmy that it is spot on. Scott whilst not looking that dissimilar to a young Tom Hanks brings the enthusiasm of a musician who just enjoys playing and you do get a sense he appreciates music, especially Jazz because of the freedom. And then you get Jimmy who takes his music seriously and his desire to make it big, so much so that he is so focussed on making it that he doesn't allow himself to really enjoy those 15 minutes of fame. It's through these two characters that we really experience the journey and it is Scott and Schaech who keeps things moving.
What this all boils down to is that "That Thing You Do!" is a fun movie, a nostalgic tale of what being in a band once meant and how easy it was for a band to become "One Hit Wonders". It's by no means perfect and the romantic ending smacks of sign of desperation as writer and director Tom Hanks tried to find closure. But it is wonderfully paced and with a balanced bland of drama, comedy and music it is 108 minutes well spent.
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