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 you certainly won’t find it “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, 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; available on DVD through the Collier County Public Library; available on DVD through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com; available only on DVD via Netflix; can be found on cable movie channels)
THERE’S MORE TO A SONG THAN SINGING
Tom Hanks as “A.M. ‘Andy’ White” (or just “Mr. White”) in “That Thing You Do!” describes the 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 of 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 (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.”
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 show he comes back to Hanks later and makes several hit albums. Schaech has also been in “Quarantine” and “Takers.”
As I just noted, Tyler’s “Faye Dolan” is Schaech’s girlfriend until she splits at the end. Tyler, who is the daughter of 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 “You’ve Got Mail” (click here for my review) and the versatile actor has TV credits, too, including “Monk.”
A quick note: Scott 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).
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 ensemble. Maybe that’s his character and he did a great job, but he still comes off weak.
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,” “The Color of Money” and “First Kid” (click here for my review).
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. This 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).
Finally we have Charlize Theron, who plays “Tina.” Theron was Scott’s girlfriend at home, but she fell for her dentist as Scott traveled with the band … and she wasn’t that much interested anyway. Theron’s character is window dressing here and doesn’t move the film forward. “That Thing You Do!” was one of two films with her released in 1996 (her first two big-screen roles) and the other was the exceptionally powerful “2 Days in the Valley” (click here for my review), where she has a world-class hotel room fight with Teri Hatcher.
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.
“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), “Down Periscope” ($25.7 million – click here for my review), “Fargo” ($24.6 million) and “Sling Blade” ($24.4 million). All were far behind the No. 1 film: “Independence Day” at $306.1 million.
Assorted cast 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.
- 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. She has also been in “Jingle All the Way” with Arnold Schwarzenegger (click here for my review).
- Peter Scolari, who is most recognizable from his role on “Newhart,” plays 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.
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