That Thing You Do! (1996) – Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks wrote and directed this joyful, song-filled film that took us inside the lives of the band members of a one hit wonder.

It’s 1964, and popular music is the thing, and for a young band calling themselves the Oneders (the Wonders – like 1 ders) they are about to find that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When their usual drummer (Giovanni Ribisi) busts his arm before a talent show, Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech), Lenny (Steve Zahn) and T.B. Player (Ethan Embry) reach out to their friend, Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) to step away from the family appliance business for the night and sit in with them.

Learning their one tune, That Thing You Do, Patterson changes the arrangement, making it an up-tempo number, and the band soon finds their popularity climbing as everyone loves the song! They record their own album, selling it at gigs, until they garner some notice from Play-Tone Records, and meet Mr. White (Tom Hanks).

White signs them to the Play-Tone label and adds them to the the touring cavalcade of stars, but despite all the trappings, Jimmy soon finds his creativity is limited, they are playing the same song over and over again, and his relationship with his girlfriend, Faye (Liv Tyler) is becoming strained.

The music is great, perfectly capturing the era, the young cast bring their characters to believable life and they have a great chemistry together. And you feel for the way things play out for the band, if not for the characters, who all find their way after the close of the film.

I remember seeing this film in the theatre when it came out (it was Tom Hanks so I was guaranteed to go), I remember adding the soundtrack to my collection (it’s a play-tone record!) and quoting the film endlessly.

On its surface it’s fun and poppy, bright and joyful, but the character arcs underneath the vibrant colors is a little more serious and real. Not all pop music and groups of the 60s was carefully controlled and produced by record companies, but for those that were, there was little creativity to be had, and a number of them vanished after a couple of hits, chewed up by the industry, playing their song to death, and then moving onto the next big thing.

All of the characters have great moments, Lenny delivers some fantastic lines, and it’s wonderful watching Guy fumble before his idol, and realize how he feels for Faye.

It had been awhile since I saw this one, and it was like enjoying it anew, laughing, singing along, and just remembering the joy of seeing it originally, and how it affected me at the time (and now). Just fun.

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