That Thing You Do!
Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron, Obba Babatunde, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Ellis, Alex Rocco, Bill Cobbs, Peter Scolari, Rita Wilson, Chris Isaak, Kevin Pollack, Robert Torti, Chaille Percival, Holmes Osborne Jr.
Tom Hanks’ big screen directorial debut is that of an assured filmmaker who’s worked with some major talents throughout his career. That Thing You Do! is an entertaining glimpse into the rise and flame-out of a small garage band in the pop-fueled days following the success of The Beatles.
Starring an interesting, talented group of young actors (and a couple future celebrities), Hanks takes his first screenwriting effort and turns it into a fascinating exploration of group band dynamics, ego, and talent that brims with wit, experience, and homage. Superbly researched, the film paints its protagonist (Tom Evertt Scott) as a jazz aficionado whose affinity for the drums leads him to sit in for a broken arm, turning a ballad into a popular hit that takes the band from playing a small talent show to a national stage where their record steadily climbs the charts.
Scott is joined by Johnathan Schaech (Prom Night, the 2008 remake), Steve Zahn (Crimson Tide), and Ethan Embry (White Squall) as part of the band. Hanks plays their manager with Liv Tyler, Charlize Theron, Obba Babatundé, Giovanni Ribisi, Alex Rocco, and Peter Scolari in support.
The actors have moments of weakness, but as a whole this is an amazingly talented group of youths. That only two of them would become true stars in the successive years: Tyler, future co-star of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as the band’s feminine backbone, and Theron, who went on to win an Oscar for Monster before embarking on a hugely successful career as an action star in films like Mad Max: Fury Road, in a bit part as Scott’s character’s original girlfriend) is a disappointing turn of events.
Hanks’ directorial style is simple and approachable, allowing his young cast to carry the film as best they can. His screenplay is succinct and important, guiding these youngsters into a career that seems somewhat similar to that of The Monkees, another band that found success in the shadow of The Beatles. Similar in tone to the original Hairspray, the audience gets to understand the challenges of sudden fame and the trappings of success.
The music is perfectly fitting of the time period and the song “That Thing You Do!” is instantly unforgettable, leaving the audience with a toe-tapping ditty that feels both modern and historical at the same time.
For a film about rivalry, recriminations, and the allure of success, That Thing You Do! is a sweet, charming, humorous look at how far people are willing to go for success and how difficult it is to attain while maintaining the purity of your true self.
April 12, 2021