Film and Documentary

That Thing You Do: Retro Review

That Thing You Do is the story of a young band of Beatle-like clones, who stumble upon a hit single. Before long, the wide-eyed Wonders find themselves on the radio, touring state fairs, in a cheesy beach movie and on a popular TV show—all on the strength of one song. But what a song!

In 1964, Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) works at his father’s appliance store until a freak accident sidelines a local quartet’s drummer. Guy joins the band, and takes a song written by the angst-driven Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech), to new heights by turning it from a sleepy ballad into a rockin’ up-tempo tune. Steve Zahn, plays the adorable cutup Lenny on guitar, Ethan Embry plays the bass player (who never has a name through the entire movie), and Liv Tyler plays the darling Faye, Jimmy’s girlfriend, and the band’s “seamstress.” Tom Hanks directs, and also plays the band’s manager, Mr. White.

Once Guy is onboard as the drummer, the band plays a talent show, where they debut the song That Thing You Do, but Guy’s nervous excitement prompts him to play the song at a faster tempo than Jimmy intended for his original song. Jimmy’s initially upset but calms down when Guy’s version wins them the talent show. They continue to play local gigs, until their first manager introduces them to Mr. White, a record exec with PlayTone Records. They sign with White, and their adventure truly begins. They hit the road, where the first stop is the fair show circuit, but only for a brief time. As their song starts rapidly climbing the charts, White takes the boys and Faye out to Hollywood, to play a band in a movie, and be guests on a national television variety show (think Ed Sullivan Show).

The day of the band’s appearance on The Hollywood Television Showcase, things start to unravel. The bassist is nowhere to be found, so Mr. White replaces him with an older, experienced session bassist known as “Wolfman”. Guy is hungover; Jimmy is throwing up due to nerves; and Lenny is preoccupied with his new girlfriend. Still, the Wonders manage to pull it together for their high-profile television appearance. However, when television captions introduce the members of the band, Jimmy’s caption reads “Careful, girls, he’s engaged!”

Post-show, the volatile Jimmy flips out, and things rapidly start to go downhill. He and Faye have a very nasty break up, and Lenny takes off for Vegas. The next day, when they are supposed to be recording a new song, a very  highly strung Jimmy quits the band. With both the Bass Player and Lenny already MIA, Guy’s the only one left.

A bewildered Guy says “But we have a hit record.” and Mr. White replies “Yes, you do. The One-Hit Wonders. A very common tale.” He then tells Guy he can hang around the studio a bit but needs to be out of the hotel later that day. He jams with Del Paxton before returning to the hotel, and running into Faye, where sparks fly.

An epilogue reveals that Guy and Faye married, raised 4 kids in Venice CA, and moved to Bainbridge Island in Washington. Jimmy went back to Play-Tone and formed another hit-making band, the Heardsmen, then had a successful career as a record producer; Lenny became a divorced hotel and casino manager in Nevada; the bass player earned a Purple Heart for injuries suffered at Khe Sanh in Vietnam, then began a career in construction in Orlando, Florida.

Director Hanks, very adroitly reveals the sometimes sour, seamy side of celebrity, exposing the entertainment industry as one big photo-op in a dog-eat-dog world.

This movie is just totally a joy-ride from beginning to end, and that song! Oh, that song … what an earworm! I’ve watched this movie dozens of times, and I still get excited every time! The quotes from the movie just slay me, especially the ones from Lenny. A very enjoyable hour and 48 minutes, to be sure.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]