About the only thing Tom Hanks has not done with verve in film is true action (he’s done combat in “Saving Private Ryan” and outdoors in “Cast Away”) and he’s even done raunch really R-rated comedy with his typical aplomb (“Bachelor Party” – click here for my review). You certainly won’t find any action in “That Thing You Do!,” but his film about a one-hit pop band from the 1960s is yet another reminder of his versatility. He’s the writer, director and one of the stars of the film. If you haven’t seen it in a while … do it now. If you haven’t, I can only tell you to check it out as soon as you can.
‘That Thing You Do!’
(1996; 108 minutes; rated R; directed by Tom Hanks and starring Tom Hanks, Tom Everett Scott and Liv Tyler)
THERE’S MORE TO A SONG THAN SINGING
(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional trivia, some more opinion and the updating of links on Oct. 19, 2017.)
Tom Hanks as “A.M. ‘Andy’ White” (or just “Mr. White”) in “That Thing You Do!” describes the title song as “snappy.” I agree and I agree that’s a good way to describe the writing-directing effort of Hanks with a really great film that tells the story of a one-hit band in the mid-1960s. It has a wonderful cast, nice subplots and a bunch of cameos and homages.
First and foremost it is the story of a garage band (first called the “Oneders” – the “One-ders,” get it? – and then just “The Wonders”) that gets a new drummer who steps up the tempo of the group’s signature song and before you can say “one-hit wonders” they’re in the Top 10 of the record charts, making a movie and doing TV. They’re also imploding, but that’s the serious side to the story.
After getting out of the gate with a small-time promoter, the group is hooked up with Hanks, who represents “Play-Tone” records (also the name of Hanks’ production company in real life). He’s the guiding force behind the band, but he’s just not good enough – or he doesn’t care – to keep them together in the end.
Included in the storyline is a broken romance repaired very quickly and four guys just about as different as you can find who are fun, naïve and pinball full-speed ahead … each with his own agenda. I’ll tell a little more of the story through my review of the actors’ work.
- First up is Tom Everett Scott, who plays “Guy ‘Shades’ Patterson.” He’s the replacement drummer who is the spice that the band needed but didn’t know they were seeking. Scott is a young Hanks (he almost didn’t get the role because he does resemble a young Hanks): He’s funny, smart, loyal and knows how to be himself. Scott got a prime amount of time for an actor in his first movie role (and he only had one TV spot before this) and didn’t waste a second of it. You just want to see more. He’d go on to also be in “An American Werewolf in Paris” and “Because I Said So” and I was disappointed that he didn’t get more screen time in “Boiler Room” (click here for my review).
- Next is Johnathon Schaech, who plays “James ‘Jimmy’ Mattingly II.” Schaech’s character is the moody, guiding songwriting genius of the group. His girlfriend, Liv Tyler as “Faye,” complicates things but he is headstrong and knows where he’s going artistically. Schaech, like Scott, is pitch-perfect in this film and doesn’t disappoint in any scene. His character quits the group abruptly at the end, but the epilogue shows that he comes back to Hanks later and makes several hit albums. Schaech has also been in “Quarantine” and “Takers.”
- Of course two-time Oscar winner and three-time nominee (not for this one) Hanks is the star of this show in front of and behind the camera. He gives his usual excellent performance and you just like how natural he is on film and how effortless he makes being an actor appear. Among his many credits, I truly enjoyed him in Ron Howard’s “Splash” (click here for my review) and he was pitch-perfect as the title character in “Charlie Wilson’s War” (click here for my review). He won for “Forrest Gump” and “Philadelphia” and was nominated for “Saving Private Ryan,” “Cast Away” and “Big.” He deserved wins in all three.
- As I just noted, Tyler’s “Faye Dolan” is Schaech’s girlfriend until she splits at the end. Tyler, who is the daughter of legendary rocker Steven Tyler of “Aerosmith,” is velvet smooth with her turn as the girl in love and has an essence of romance and happiness that doesn’t seem to end. Tyler all too quickly winds up with Scott after the breakup, but you see that one coming a long way off. Tyler has also been in “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”
- The most fun member of the band is Steve Zahn as “Leonard ‘Lenny’ Haise.” Zahn does a great job of being the one looking for the next fun thing to do and comes off all his marks well here. Zahn has also been in “Saving Silverman” and has a small part in my favorite chick flick “You’ve Got Mail” (click here for my review) and the versatile actor has TV credits, too, including one of my favorite TV series, “Monk.”
- Ethan Embry plays “T.B. Player,” who is the bass player (get the name?). You never find out his real name but the epilogue says he went to Vietnam and was decorated for action in combat. Embry, who went by his real name of Ethan Randall until this film (including “Dutch” – click here for my review) is the weakest actor of the entire cast. Maybe that’s his character and he did a great job, but he still comes off as weak and barely able to play his instrument. I also liked his small part in “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” and he was “Rusty Griswold” in “Vegas Vacation.”
- Bill Cobbs is the most outstanding of the outstanding supporting cast in “That Thing You Do!” He plays “Del Paxton,” a jazz legend who Scott meets while the band is in Los Angeles. Cobbs comes off as the quiet-spoken jazz pianist who is worldly wise and band wise. Cobbs has also been in “Demolition Man” (click here for my review), “The Color of Money” and “First Kid” (click here for my review). I liked him best in the gritty, outstanding crime drama “New Jack City” (click here for my review).
- Primetime Emmy nominee Giovanni Ribisi plays “Chad,” who is the band’s first drummer. He has to abdicate because of a broken arm. Thankfully Ribisi doesn’t serve up his usual two bottles of whine to go along with his character’s obsequious behavior. The somewhat morose whine is a specialty of his – kind of like how John (“Deer Hunter”) Savage became good at whining and crying through a character to the point of annoyance for the audience. As a schlep, Ribisi is good and you can see his best work in “Boiler Room” (in which he headlined while Scott was the bit player). He won his Emmy for “My Name is Earl.”
- Hanks’ wife in real life is Rita Wilson and she plays cocktail waitress “Margueritte” here (Margarita is her first name). It’s a small role and she does a good job, but her bosom overflowing the costume overwhelms her work. I liked her best in the Christmas story “Jingle All the Way” with Arnold Schwarzenegger (click here for my review) from the same year as “That Thing You Do!”
- As I finish with a look at the some of the primary cast, Oscar winner and nominee (not for this one) Charlize Theron, who plays “Tina,” could have done better. Theron was Scott’s girlfriend at home but obviously was bored by his whole music thing and Theron’s performance matches this attitude. Her character is window dressing here and doesn’t move the film forward, especially since it took screen time away from more deserving charaters. “That Thing You Do!” was one of two of her films released in 1996 (her initial big-screen roles) and the other was the exceptionally powerful and dark “2 Days in the Valley” (click here for my review), where she has a world-class hotel room fight with that most “Desperate Housewife” Teri Hatcher. Theron won her Oscar for “Monster” and was nominated for “North Country.”
A quick note about homage to the U.S. space program: Scott’s and Zahn’s characters have last names the same as two astronauts from Hanks’ “Apollo 13” the year before … Ken Mattingly and Fred Haise (check out the link at the end of this review about such homages and trivia). Another homage: On the marquee of the band’s show in Pittsburgh, there’s a group named “Marilyn Lovell and The Geminis” – with Marilyn being Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell’s wife and Gemini the name the space program’s first missions.
I have to say that the extended cut of this film adds some foundation to the characters’ stories, but after it was all over I thought that the original cut was just a bit better. The extra scenes are nice, but ultimately unnecessary.
Not unsurprisingly, “That Thing You Do!” was nominated for an Oscar for the title track. It didn’t win, but was certainly worthy, in my opinion.
“That Thing You Do!” was the 60th ranked film at the U.S. box office in 1996 with $25.8 million in receipts, according to Box Office Mojo. Worldwide, “That Thing You Do!” brought in $34.5 million on a budget of $26 million, according to Wiki. It was ahead of such films as the ultra-gory “From Dusk Till Dawn” ($25.8 million), “Fargo” ($24.6 million) and “Sling Blade” ($24.4 million). All were far behind the No. 1 film: “Independence Day” at $306.1 million. Here are the other films from 1996 that I have reviewed:
- “Broken Arrow” (good Travolta action vehicle) – click here for my review
- “Down Periscope” (a Kelsey Grammer comedy) – click here for my review
- “From Dusk Till Dawn” (gory Rodriguez-Tarantino fest) – click here for my review
- “Happy Gilmore” (hilarious Adam Sandler golf comedy) – click here for my review
- “The Late Shift” (simply terrific HBO movie) – click here for my review
- “My Fellow Americans” (good presidential buddy film) – click here for my review
- “Scream” (tremendous horror classic) – click here for my review
- “Tin Cup” (Kevin Costner golf comedy-drama) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Hanks pumped so much trivia and homages into this film it is impossible to list them here (take the astronauts’ names for example). Click here for IMDb.com’s page of trivia about the film. Or, you can click here for Wiki’s page about the film (it is especially good about the cameos).
- The extended cut of the film makes the suggestion that Hanks has a partner in life. Waiting outside the band’s hotel is Howie Long, who plays “Lloyd,” and he is waiting on Hanks to go out and then drives him away. The scene was cut entirely from the theatrical release. Long, a former pro football star, was in “Broken Arrow” with John Travolta.
- Schaech reportedly said he improvised the “I Quit” song during his audition and won the job with it.
- You almost miss that it is Peter Scolari, who is most recognizable from his role on “Newhart,” plays energetic TV emcee “Troy Chesterfield.” He also co-starred with Hanks in TV’s “Bosom Buddies.”
- Perennial supporting actor Clint Howard, who is usually found in brother Ron’s films, plays a radio DJ (he was also with Hanks in “Apollo 13”) while Hanks’ real life son Colin (“Orange County”) has a bit part as an usher at the TV show where the band appears.
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Tom Hanks‘ character name is Andy White. Andy White was a studio/session drummer in the 60s, known for replacing Ringo Starr on The Beatles‘ first single ‘Love Me Do.’”
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