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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

That Thing You Do!

Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…

#333: That Thing You Do! (1996).  Tom Hanks made the leap from actor to writer-director with this, and he did one hell of a job.  So, let’s get to it, eh?

The Players:

Guy Patterson: Played by Tom Everett Scott.  Guy is a hipster (uber hipster, really, because he was one before they were cool) drummer who just wants to play with a band.  He loves jazz, and is obsessed with the fictional jazz artist Del Paxton.  He also refers to himself as “Sparticus”.  He’s a little odd, but endearing.

Mr. White: Played by Tom Hanks.  Not only did Hanks write and direct this baby, he gave himself a supporting role as well.  Mr. White is the manager for the band when they sign with Play-Tone records.  He’s slick and pretty much full of shit, but knows his stuff.

Jimmy Mattingly: Played by Jonathan Schaech.  Jimmy is the leader of the Wonders in every way.  He’s the lead singer, the main writer, and basically in charge.  Until Guy joins the band… he’s really smart, and all about being an artist, which in turn makes him kind of a dick.

Faye Dolan: Liv Tyler.  Faye is Jimmy’s girlfriend, but you totally know she’s going to wind up with Guy.  She’s sweet and adorable, and a typical early 1960s girlfriend. 

The Bass Player: Played by Ethan Embry.  He’s not too bright, but enthusiastic like a puppy and just as adorable.

Lenny Haise: Played by Steve Zahn.  Lenny plays guitar in the band, and occasionally has a lead vocal.  He’s silly and goofy.  I love him.

All of the supporting people: A.K.A. Tom Hanks’ friends.  There are people from Apollo 13, A League of their Own, and other various Tom Hanks flicks.  They are what have now come to be known as the Hanks regulars.  Not to be confused with the Ron Howard regulars.  There’s some venn action going on there…

The Rundown:
OK, there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot going on here.  The film follows the rise of a garage band from Erie, PA called The Wonders (as in “One Hit”).  The main focus is on Guy.  When the band’s drummer breaks his arm by jumping parking meters, the band turns to Guy.  He helps them come up with their band name (initially spelled “The Oneders”, leading to a lot of funny mispronunciation gags) and takes their ballad, “That Thing You Do” to a new tempo, helping them win the Mercyherst college talent show.  Woah.  Wait.  I just realized today that none of the guys in the band attend this college.  They are all slightly older than college aged.  Why are they competing in a college talent ‘60s thing?  Oh, right, don’t overthink this movie…

So, at the talent show, we meet Tina, played by none other than Charlize Theron, who is Guy’s girlfriend.  She couldn’t be less interested, until they win and land a gig at the pizza place down by the airport…

The guys have a little fan – it’s a “Hey, it’s that guy!” who looks like Steve Buscemi’s slightly less creepy little brother.  He asks about a record, and they get the brilliant idea to record their now signature song.

I should stop here and warn you that if you have not seen this movie, be prepared to hear every possible rendition of “That Thing You Do!” possible performed throughout the movie.  There are other songs, but you will hear this again. And again. And againAND YOU WILL LIKE IT!  More about the music later…

So, they make a record and sell it for a dollar at the pizza place.  Some old dude buys the record (hey!  It’s Deke Slayton from Apollo 13!).  Turns out this guy is a local band manager who works out of “a really nice camper!” (so says Lenny).  He gets them to sign a contract with them, and promises to get their song played on the radio within a week.  Just when you think they might be taken for a ride in that really nice camper…

I love this so much.  Look at how happy they are!

So, this results in getting a gig in Pittsburgh (HOLLA!!) which is where Mr. White enters the scene.  Mr. Really Nice Camper bows out gracefully, and sells his contract to Play-Tone Records.  The boys are going on the road!

They head off on a State Fair tour, and meet other stars from the Play-Tone Galaxy, including Diane Dane.  She has one song, is jaded, and might have something fishy going on with Jimmy.  Uh-Oh…

“That Thing You Do” takes off like a rocket, and the Wonders (re-named by Mr. White) take off for California.  They appear as Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters in a hilariously bad beach monster movie (Hey!  Betty Spaghetti!)  and give a couple of radio interviews (CLINT HOWARD!  Your brother loaned you out?!) and meet the head of Play-Tone, who is a total dick.  Jimmy is very disenfranchised.

There is dissention in the ranks as poor Faye is all but forgotten about (she’s been traveling with them as their “costume mistress”).  She tries to defend Jimmy, saying that he’s a genius or some crap, and having a cold, heads off to bed.  Lenny hit it off with the receptionist at Play-Tone, so he heads out on a date with her, and The Bass Player meets some Marines, who take him under their wing.  Leaving poor Guy all by himself.

He heads off to a jazz club, where a waitress (aaaand, it’s RITA WILSON, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!  I wondered how long that was going to take) named Marguerite is all hitting on him, but he’s all about the music, man.

Turns out that Del Paxton frequents the club, so Marguerite introduces them.  Resulting in the best drunken fanboy word vomit ever (I tried to find a video, but no luck.  Here’s the transcript off of

I'm Guy Patterson, I'm from Erie, Pennsylvania, I'm in a band called The Wonders and we just cut a record, we're out here on the coast and I play the drums and I have all your records well not all of them but a lot of them but ah at least I did until some of them got swiped when I was stationed in Germany and you were playing in Germany at the time that I was stationed there, but you know what I couldn't see you because you were playing in Hamburg and I was stationed in Munich but I listen to your records and I think you're great. 
[takes a breath] 
You are my biggest fan. 

You really need to see how he does it, it is wonderful, and I think we all have said something similar.  Lord knows if I ever met my boyfriend Rick Moranis, I’d do the same thing.  Moving along…

Del gives Guy some tips, reminding him that bands come and go, but always remember that it’s all about the music, man…

The next day, Guy gets a phone call from a very excited/angry Mr. White.  He’s pumped because The Wonders are going to be on “The Hollywood Showcase”! Yay!  But… their bass player is missing.  Oops!  Turns out he’s off living it up with the Marines at Disneyland.  He was going to be leaving at the end of the summer to join up, anyway, so they get a studio bass player to fill in named “Wolf Man”.  I do not make this shit up. 

The show is hosted by another buddy of Tom Hanks, one Peter Scolari from their “Bosom Buddies” days.  Nice of Tom to give you some much needed work, dude!

Faye has been treated to a day of pampering, and looks stunning for the show.  She sits in the audience, proud as can be of her boyfriend and his band.  When they play, the audience is going nuts, and during the music bridge, the production crew goes in for close-ups with the guys’ names, complete with “Careful girls, he’s engaged!” under Jimmy’s.  Jimmy is shocked, Faye is genuinely happy, and the band is totally about to break up.

They have it out in the dressing room, Faye dumps Jimmy’s sorry genius ass, and Lenny and his date head out for a big road trip to Vegas. 

The next day, they are supposed to be recording new stuff, but see Jimmy doesn’t understand how the whole record label thing works, so he quits.  Lenny is still in Vegas, having married his secretary on a whim, and Wolf Man heads out to collect his social security check.  Yeah, he’s kinda old, by the way.  This leaves Guy and Mr. White.

Mr. White assures Guy they aren’t in any sort of legal trouble, that the whole “One hit Wonder” thing is nothing new, and wishes him the best.  He lets him stay in the recording studio for the day if he wants, but they gotta be out of the hotel (Oh, The Ambassador!  Fuck you, California, for letting it be torn down!) tonight.

While he’s playing his drums, who walks in but Del Paxton!  They jam together, and it’s super cool and sweet.

Guy runs to the hotel, ready to get his stuff and find some new digs, ‘cause he’s staying in LA.  He runs into Faye in the coffee shop, and she tells him she’s going back to Erie, and that he should call her if he’s ever in town.  Of course, he can’t let her leave without giving her one hell of a kiss, and of course they wind up together.  The end.

Wow.  That was a lot.  OK, so why do I love this movie?  Let’s begin with the obvious: The music.

I love the soundtrack.  It’s so dead-on with the early 1960s sound, it is just so much fun to listen to.  The title song.  OK.  So, I remember when this movie came out, and somewhere in an interview Tom Hanks said that the title song had to be something he could hear over and over and not get sick of it.  Guess what?  He got it.  I have yet to be sick of this song.  It’s peppy, “snappy” as Mr. White says, and catchy as hell.  The rest of The Wonders songs are good, as is Diane Dane’s one song, and the other Play-Tone Galaxy of Stars songs are good.  It’s just happy music, and perfect for the movie.  Well done, music director.

I adore Tom Hanks in this.  It’s a character we’d never really seen before.  Sure, in A League of their Own, he played an ass, but this is suave and slick.  He is absolutely what you would expect of a 1960s record label band manager.  He’s not a total jerk, either.  He is a pretty cool guy, just a tough nut to crack.

Tom Everett Scott.  The movie kind of depends on whether or not Guy is likable.  By making him kind of a dork at times, he is very likable.  Yes, he does tend to act all beatnicky-hipster at times, but underneath it all, he’s just a big music lovin’ nerd.  It also helps that he is easy on the eyes…

This is not a perfect movie by any means.  Guy and Tina break up, it is implied that she left him for her dentist, but there’s no closure to that relationship.  And they were so obviously not meant for each other, it was too obvious.  Same with the chemistry between Guy and Faye.  It was slightly rushed. 

Jimmy is too much of a dick at times.  So, overall, you could say a lot of the character stuff is a little heavy-handed.  But it works.

Overall, this is a really fun movie.  There is an extended “Director’s Cut” version, but really it doesn’t add much.  It does go into Tina and Guy’s relationship a little more, and there’s a few missing pieces that are filled in, but nothing so major that the film feels more complete with the added scenes.  But hey, if you’re a film geek like me, you’ll check it out anyway!  But I recommend watching the theatrical version first.

I love this movie, and you will too.  Now, try to get that song out of your head.  I dare you…

And that’s a wrap!  Tomorrow: some family drama!

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