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Overall Rating
3.78

Awesome: 14.81%
Worth A Look61.11%
Average: 16.67%
Pretty Bad: 1.85%
Total Crap: 5.56%

4 reviews, 30 user ratings


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That Thing You Do!
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Tom Hanks' likable directing debut."
4 stars

There's a scene about half an hour into 'That Thing You Do!', Tom Hanks' debut as a writer-director, that would cement Hanks' status as a fine filmmaker even if the rest of the movie were sludge (it isn't).

It's 1964, and a clean-cut band from Erie, Pennsylvania called The Wonders have just released their first single. When it first plays on the radio, we see each of the band members in hysterics as they head for an appliance store (where the drummer works). Hanks lets the scene play out, upping its intensity until it becomes an operetta of joy.

That Thing You Do! is a nostalgic, whistle-clean comedy about a (fictional) band like the dozens of other nice-boy bands that cropped up after The Beatles. Most of these bands had as much longevity as the American rip-offs of the other '60s British Invasion, the James Bond films. Hanks compounds our awareness of this by the very name he picks for his band: The Wonders, which almost begs to be preceded by "one-hit."

The one hit, of course, is "That Thing You Do!," which begins as a sensitive ballad penned by the band's Lennonesque singer-leader Jimmy (Jonathan Schaech). But when the goofy, jazz-worshipping drummer Guy (Tom Everett Scott) joins The Wonders for a campus music competition, he cranks up the tempo and turns the song into a bouncy rocker. We hear the tune many more times, and it sounds emptier and slicker every time, as Hanks means it to. As The Wonders move into the "big time," the music takes a back seat to the image -- it becomes merely that thing they do. Over and over and over.

Hanks is shrewd to chart the band's downfall by following the mutation of their one hit from scrappy rock to processed cheese. He's also good at touching on The Wonders' inner tensions without letting those tensions usurp the movie. Guitarist Lenny (Steve Zahn) has his eye on the glitz and babes of Vegas. The unnamed bass player (Ethan Embry) joins the Marines. Most of all, the idealistic Guy and the increasingly cynical Jimmy clash not only over the future of the band, but over Jimmy's neglected girlfriend Faye (Liv Tyler), who's attracted to Guy's unassuming sweetness.

Unassuming sweetness may have been Tom Hanks' middle name in the past, but it doesn't describe his movie (which is smarter than it lets on, like Clueless) or the character he plays -- Mr. White, the record exec who signs The Wonders to his label. Hanks looks pasty and a little reptilian here. When he plays a scene with Tom Everett Scott, who's a ringer for Hanks circa Bachelor Party, Hanks squints his eyes and sounds rather weaselly. It's as if the exec were recoiling from a more innocent version of himself -- a reminder of lost idealism.

'That Thing You Do!' is a reminder, too, but it doesn't get bogged down in sentimental regret. At the end, after the band's disintegration, Faye tells Guy, "This all wouldn't have happened if not for you. And I mean that in a good way." It's a good way for Hanks to end the movie, which restores dignity to the one-hit wonders -- the guys who were in it for the music.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=641&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/28/07 11:40:20
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User Comments

7/09/11 DK Engrossing and lovely. I hope Hanks finds more time to direct in the future. 4 stars
1/01/10 Jeff Wilder Good story. But would've benefited from more satiric bite. 3 stars
8/11/08 PAUL SHORTT A SIMPLE, RATHER SWEET AND UNCOMPLICATED, ROCK AND ROLL FABLE 4 stars
2/28/07 Mike in TX One of my all-time favorites 5 stars
2/19/07 Nick Maday OK, but not as good as I had heard. 3 stars
1/24/05 Phil M. Aficionado Refreshingperiod piece with laughs and warmth, and Liv, and Tom. Fun. 5 stars
5/17/03 George Jung Normal, harmless comedy that has no bite and pulls every punch. 2 stars
10/18/02 Charles Tatum Surprisingly good 4 stars
11/24/01 Andrew Carden Extremly Dull and Boring Musical Which Show Hank's Bad Musical Talent. 1 stars
6/15/01 Law Firm of Dewey, Cheatam & Howe I hate Hanks but gotta give him credit for this little gem 4 stars
6/13/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Tom Hanks has some potential on the other side of the camera, too, I see... 4 stars
5/03/01 roy healey wow what a great song 5 stars
3/14/01 Abigail Whitney Great movie . . . leaves you smiling. Excellent music. 5 stars
2/15/01 Phil M. Afficianado 30 yrs younger than at 7 am today. Bought new car, then saw it. All smiles. Try it yourself 4 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla good songs, modest directing, and a shitty script, just watch it for the music 3 stars
11/27/00 hk It was wonderful! 5 stars
11/07/99 Anthony Ellis It had a lot of potential, but it didn't deliver on that. Badly written, it was a real dud! 1 stars
7/07/99 Ben Leostein Rating: *** (out of ****) Category: "Good" 4 stars
6/17/99 luana Its got a good song to go with it! 5 stars
4/20/99 bb Pile of shit 1 stars
2/20/99 Piz cute movie with lots of spirit and soul. 4 stars
2/04/99 Michelle Me Belle Awesome soundtrack, good actors. all around cute. best movie kiss ever!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/28/98 Silent Rob Good story, Good music, Good performances. 4 stars
10/14/98 Chi-Fan Hu I loved the tunes 4 stars
10/03/98 wind excellent movie to watch at anytime... 5 stars
9/28/98 Heather Cute! I like it! And I *really* like Tom Everett Scott. :) 4 stars
9/25/98 ShadowStar Good movie, but that song... hey, Mr. Hanks, ever hear of the concept of overkill? 4 stars
9/01/98 MikeF I liked this one a lot. catchy tunes too. 4 stars
8/30/98 Mister Whoopee Very enjoyable. no epic, but worth a bunch o'maltesers. 4 stars
8/25/98 Zach Hyatt A solid movie. Keeps you interested, if you're not expecting something epic. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  04-Oct-1996 (PG)
  DVD: 08-May-2007

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Tom Hanks

Written by
  Tom Hanks

Cast
  Tom Everett Scott
  Liv Tyler
  Johnathon Schaech
  Steve Zahn
  Ethan Embry
  Tom Hanks



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