Ah, the 60’s; the age of hippies, JFK, and great pop music. Even though I was born nearly three decades after the 60’s ended, I’m able to get a glimpse at one of the best of the times in music with Tom Hank’sfilm, That Thing You Do!.. The film, released in 1996, marks Hank’s directorial debut, and went on to be nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
The movie tells the story of a fictional rock band created in 1964, though it all begins with four friends from Erie, Pennsylvania, who have the hopes of becoming a successful band. There’s Jimmy Mattingly (Jonathon Schaech), the conceited lead singer and guitarist; Lenny Haise (Steve Zahn), the goofy and playful guitarist; the affable Bass Player (Ethan Embry), who is never given a proper name in the movie; and the charming drummer, Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott). When the band (The Wonders) is discovered by a music representative (Tom Hanks as Mr. White) for the hit record label,Playtone, they soon find themselves fast on the path to success with their catchy hit single, That Thing You Do!. We soon discover that the movie is more the tale of a one-hit wonder (pun intended, I’m sure); not long after their meteoric rise to fame, tension within the band mounts, and they split up, which was the end to several successful bands in the 60’s.
However, the fun of the movie is going along for the ride. Everett Scott made his film debut with the movie (he then went on to star in such films as Dead Man On Campus, One True Thing and more recently, the Diane Keaton/Mandy Moore flick, Because You Said So), and plays his character perfectly. Guy quickly emerges alongside Jimmy as The Wonders’ heartthrob, and Everett Scott plays the sweet, boy-next-door charm to a T. Likewise, Schaech (Hush, Finding Graceland) is handsome enough to make the ladies swoon, but has a personality sickening enough to be ultimately loathed towards the end of the film. Zahn (Reality Bites, Daddy Day Care, Sahara) provides a large dose of comic relief, while Liv Tyler(Armageddon, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) plays the sweet and lovable Faye, who is Jimmy’s girlfriend. Of course, Hanks shines as well as their wise and endearing manager.
Besides a well-written script and wonderful characters, the film’s focus is also on the catchy pop tunes. That Thing You Do! plays throughout the majority of the movie, but I never once got tired of hearing it (and I’ve probably seen this movie about 15 times!). The infectious hand-clapping beat and fun vocals (actually provided by the actors themselves, while lyrics were written by Hanks) make a perfect hit, and actually did successfully in reality (the song hit #18 on the Adult Top 40 in ’96, and the soundtrack peaked at #21 on the Billboard Top 200 that same year). The Wonders perform several other songs in the movie, all of which are authentically poppy and Beatles-esque (which is where most of the movie draws its inspiration from); all of the songs genuinely sound like they could’ve been released in the 60’s.
The thing about That Thing You Do! is that it’s honestly a joy to watch. The acting, directing, and music are all spot on, and create a fun escape for 108 minutes, where your biggest worry is which poster you’d rather hang up in your room: Guy’s or Jimmy’s.