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June 22, 2012

That Thing You Do!

by Franz Patrick


That Thing You Do! (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★

Guy (Tom Everett Scott) spent his days helping out his family to keep their appliance store business afloat. After he’d close up, he’d go down to the basement and play the drums before heading home. One day, his friends came up to him with a last-minute offer to play with their band at a local talent show because the drummer (Giovanni Ribisi) broke his arm. If they won, they’d evenly split a hundred dollars, a good amount of money in 1964 Erie, Pennsylvania. Their band, The Oneders, pronounced “The Wonders” but often mispronounced as “The O-need-ers,” won the competition and their song, “That Thing You Do!” was an instant hit. People in the music industry took notice, from the likes of a local-based manager, Horace (Chris Ellis), to the big deal Mr. White (Tom Hanks). Written and directed by Tom Hanks, “That Thing You Do!” was like a really catchy and inescapable pop song. Despite its occasional lack of logic and cohesion, I couldn’t help but welcome whatever it had to offer and see if it could surprise me in some way. Once in a while it did. One of the most exciting scenes was when the band, along with the lead singer’s girlfriend, luminescent Faye (Liv Tyler), heard their song on the radio for the very first time. They ran all over the street and into the appliance store, their energy so infectious, I wanted to join and celebrate with them. That scene drew a really big smile on my face. I could just imagine how much fun the actors had while shooting that sequence. Furthermore, I liked that we got a chance to feel each of the band member’s personality. Guy was the smart one with the puppy dog eyes, Jimmy (Johnathan Schaech) was the serious-minded lead singer, lead guitarist Lenny (Steve Zahn) had the great one-liners that bordered silliness and foolishness, and the unnamed bass player (Ethan Embry) was the reticent thinker. I found their lack of depth, at least initially, appropriate because that’s how I come to recognize the members of the bands I enjoy listening to. I may not know their names at first but I’m instantly familiar with their quirks to the point where I could look at the attitude–or lack thereof–in their shadows and match it with a face. It’s about presence and I was convinced that the picture understood that idea. However, some of the strands of the film left a lot to be desired. I didn’t see how Guy’s girlfriend, Tina (Charlize Theron), was at all necessary. Yes, she had a fling with her hunky dentist, but she was gone from the movie for such large chunks of time, I just stopped caring. I suspected the movie had forgotten about her because it didn’t offer closure between she and Guy. Another romantic angle that didn’t quite work was between Guy and Faye. I wanted to see them get together because the actors were attractive, but I’m afraid there wasn’t much meat in their potentially awkward relationship. Why didn’t they have funnier scenes? The little flirtations they shared were nice and sweet but they failed to match, or offer a different, the level of energy relative to the performances or when the band would just hang out backstage. Whenever the camera turned to romance, the quieter moments, the thinness of the plot and characterization were blinding. It made me consider that, without The Oneders’ zestful performances, it might have been a torturous experience. However, I had fun watching “That Thing You Do!” because it showcased the kind of pop music and time period that I’m a sucker for. It must’ve asked myself ten times why I didn’t grow up in the 60s.

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