Sunday, March 23, 2008
"It is very important that you don't stink today."
That Thing You Do! | dir. Tom Hanks | 1996
There is no other way to portray the rise and fall of a sunny 1960 pop-rock group but to do it with bittersweet nostalgia and adoration for the time period. Tom Hanks does exactly that in his writing and directing debut in That Thing You Do! a love letter to the styles and times of the sixties. The film isn't a masterpiece, but the subject is handled with such love and care that you can't help falling in love with the story. It is hard not to be swept away by a catchy tune, and this is exactly what the movie becomes.
Hanks casts Tom Everett Scott (who resembles a younger Hanks a la Big) as the central character, Guy Patterson, a jazz-loving drummer who works at his dad's appliance store. When a local garage band need a last-minute replacement for a drummer, they approach Guy who instantly accepts. The lead singer of the band, Jimmy (Jonathon Schaech), has already wrote a down-tempo love song, "That Thing You Do!" to perform in a contest. But during the performance, Guy plays it fast, which makes the song more upbeat, fun, and well, alive, sounding like something The Beatles may have recorded back then. All the kids go crazy for the song and their band, The Oneders (pronounced "wonders") gradually becomes the coolest thing in town.
The band catches the eye of Mr. White (Hanks), who works for Playtone records. They are renamed simply as "The Wonders." With Mr. White at their side, the band's hit single, "That Thing You Do!" makes its way up the music charts. They become so famous that they even get a bit part in a Hollywood film production and a much-anticipated television appearance. With their newfound fame, tensions increase within the band. Jimmy is constantly annoyed at his girlfriend, Faye (Liv Tyler) who, although devoted, is not what Jimmy seems to want at the moment. Of course, there are a few good bits of comedic relief from the band's other two members--Lenny (Steven Zahn) and T.B. (Ethan Embry).
The young actors are all very convincing in their roles (specifically Scott and Tyler), but I especially like it when Hanks take a backseat when it comes to acting. I think I like Hanks best when it comes to supporting roles like this film and also, Catch Me If You Can. When he takes a supporting role, Hanks seems to nourish every frame he is in. Of course, that doesn't mean I don't like his more acclaimed performances in Forrest Gump or Cast Away, but it's just that he's so much more compelling and interesting to watch when he takes a supporting role.
I was smiling all the way through this movie because well, it's hard not to. The catchy theme song, "That Thing You Do!" is used as a great device in the film. It is an old story that when catch tunes gets old and repetitive, they fade--and they fade fast. The crowds suddenly become smaller and the band is slowly forgotten. Years later, people ask, "You remember this band? I wonder what happened to them..." But the film is too full of saccharine, too shamelessly sappy and sentimental to end on a depressing note and Hanks finds a perfectly satisfying ending for this one-hit wonder of a band.
With That Thing You Do!, Hanks shows great promise as a filmmaker and I could only hope he makes another film in the near-future.