That Thing You Do! (1996)

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Legendary Hollywood actor Tom Hanks makes his feature film directorial debut with this nostalgic film about the rise and fall of a rock and roll band.

The year is 1964 and the place is Erie, Pennsylvania. Electronics store heir Guy Patterson spends his days selling and his nights doing the books but also doing his lifelong passion of playing drums to the music of his idol, jazz musician Del Paxton. When Jimmy Mattingly, a local musician, asks Guy to play drums for his band for an upcoming talent show, Guy agrees. During rehearsal, Guy inadvertently comes up with the band’s name, The One-ders. The song they perform, a ballad called “That Thing You Do!” is played to an upbeat tone due to Guy’s drumming. Despite Jimmy’s unhappiness with the tone of the song, the song becomes a hit with locals.

The song makes its way to the Play-Tone label, giving the newly named “Wonders” national fame. As they climb the charts, the group enjoys their success. However, with that success comes a price. Soon enough, tempers begin to flare and egos slowly begin to become driven. While the song is still a hit with fans, tensions within certain members of the band begin to rise. Will the Wonders be able to overcome their differences to be able to continue their rising fame? Or will the band finally unravel and bring an end to their once unique bond?

Tom Hanks is quite an interesting figure when it comes to his performances, but with this film, he proves himself to be quite the director. Prior to this, he has directed some television work. With his big screen directorial debut, Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay, takes us to the 1960s, a time when the beach movies were a big deal, the Beatles started the British Invasion to America, and times were mostly feel good and for the most part, that’s the best way to describe this film, as a feel good movie that has some bumps in the road for this band, but still has a feel good tinge nonetheless.

What is even great in the film is the core cast of the film as each exhibit a different personality and together, they couldn’t mesh any better. Tom Everett Scott plays Guy, the new drummer of the band, who is perhaps the most level-headed of the group. Jonathan Schaech is the outspoken, sometimes arrogant singer Jimmy, who only cares about recording and writing ballads. Steve Zahn brings the comic relief and the very funny guitarist Lenny, who becomes so desperate for love he seeks attention anywhere he goes. Ethan Embry’s T.B. Player (short for The Bass Player, as he was never given a name), does give some comic relief, but his character is limited when compared to the others.

The main support come in the form of Liv Tyler’s Faye, whose role is very prominent as she is Jimmy’s girlfriend. However, in her scenes with Guy, it seems like Faye may be harboring some sort of feelings towards him as it seems Jimmy is becoming a bit too egotistical for his own good. Hanks himself is great as Mr. White, the manager of the band who does his job and nails it when it comes to his opinion on each of the band members. Obba Babatundé is also great as California bellhop Lamar, who proves to be a very important character towards the second half of the film as he wittingly sets a twist of fate towards the finale.

That Thing You Do! is a wonderful mostly feel good film about the rise of a young local band who become national teen idols and the results of success and fame. Tom Hanks truly has done a great job as director, writer, and playing the manager of this young band of stars. A little tidbit is that Tom Hanks would name his future production company after the major record label in this film.

WFG RATING: A

20th Century Fox presents a Clavius Base production in association with Clinica Estetico. Director: Tom Hanks. Producers:  Jonathan Demme, Edward Saxon, and Gary Goetzman. Writer: Tom Hanks. Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto. Editing: Richard Chew.

Cast: Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Jonathan Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron, Obba Babatundé, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Ellis, Alex Rocco, Bill Cobbs, Peter Scolari, Rita Wilson, Chris Isaak, Kevin Pollak.

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