Tom Hanks Project – That Thing You Do! Review

19 May

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“That Thing You Do!” feels like what came out of everyone in the world collectively winning the lottery. You love Tom Hanks and he is basically your adoptive uncle, but you just wish he’d share his own personal creative impulses with the world? Boom! He wrote and directed this bad boy. You loved Ethan Embry and Liv Tyler in “Empire Records,” you say? Pow! They’re back. You love music? Blammo! This film has excellent live music throughout. You enjoy reliving Beatlesmania and crushing on adorable, funny boys? There’s something here for you, too. The only question left in our minds after this week’s Hanks viewing was, why hasn’t our guy written and directed, like, 25 more movies? It would be easy to argue that Tom should have written and directed a dozen more movies since this first attempt is an absolute gem. Then you remember that he worked with Spielberg on “Saving Private Ryan” next, and teamed up with Zemeckis again for “Cast Away” followed by another Nora Ephron pairing for “You’ve Got Mail” and it makes sense that he was happy to let those masters take the reins back. I remembered this movie being solid, funny, competent and cute. I figured a high 8, low 9. I under-estimated what happens when Tom gets to put his stamp all over something. This is an exceptionally great movie. Especially the 2 hour and 24 minute director’s cut Blu-Ray we gleefully watched.

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At the opening of “That Thing You Do,” we are introduced to our protagonist, Guy Patterson, played by Tom Everett Scott. He’s a goofy but cute beatnik in the small town of Erie, P.A., working in his family’s appliance shop that is starting to fail as larger competitors spring up. Patterson seems content enough to work at the store, playing his drums in the basement at night. He’s an avid jazz fan, but otherwise isn’t up to much (other than locking lips on the reg with Charlize Theron, his girlfriend). After a string of serendipitous events, Patterson is invited to sit in on the drums for a local band at a local talent show. Guy picks up the tempo of a song called “That Thing You Do,” causing the kids in the audience to lose their minds and dance like there’s no tomorrow. The “One-ders” (often mispronounced as the “O’Needers”) start getting regular gigs at the local pizza place, until they’re found out by a small-time manager, who then feeds them over to Tom Hanks, aka Mr. White, a big time manager at Play-Tone Records. At this point, Charlize has left Guy (unbeknownst to him) for her dentist, Guy starts to fall for Faye, the girlfriend of lead singer Jimmy, and Jimmy is just an asshole forever and always amen. The “One-ders” become “The Wonders” and tour all over the place before Jimmy’s assholeishness catches up with him, he quits the band, and everything kinda falls apart*. Still, Guy is able to play jazz with his hero Del Paxton, gets a job at a radio station, and the coolest hotel owner slash valet Lamarr makes me want to always call my unborn son “Young Squire.”

*I like that the stakes are pretty low on this one. The band breaks up. Jimmy and Faye break-up. In the original version, Guy doesn’t even get a radio job. His future is left more wide open. It’s nice to have a movie with no big plot point at the end. They ride a very quick wave to success and just as quickly fall apart as we get to know these wonderful characters.

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Laugh Out Loud Zack: 115 Caitlin: 96 This film had us cracking up from start to finish. Between the hilarious one-liners from Lenny, the funny goofiness of Guy “Shades” Patterson, and all of Ethan Embry’s flat-out adorableness, I was giggling and guffawing all of the time. “A man in a really nice camper wants to put our song on the radio!” “Stuebenville!” “Look at you. You’re no good to me now.” “Hey, wasn’t that our fan?” Steve Zahn is absolutely hilarious in this movie and he’s not alone. Caitlin laughed at everything Ethan Embry did and our boy Tommy got off some great one-liners. 

Comedy Zack: 9.4 Caitlin: 9 Not only was this one of our highest laugh-count films, but it was a really hilarious comedy through and through. One of those films best described as “delightful,” really. We were grinning whole-heartedly as we watched the band have one fast and fun adventure before heading their separate ways. This movie is totally under-rated as a comedy. We never stopped laughing. It also has the most exuberant scene of any Hanks movie we’ve seen so far. We’ll get to that.

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Cry Zack: 0 Caitlin: 0 I felt no need to cry, but I was going to be terribly disappointed if they hadn’t ended the film exactly as they did. I will say I felt a little sad for Lenny, whose marriage to an ex-playboy bunny apparently did not last. Ah, young love. I felt for Faye when she broke up with Jimmy, but not close to tears.

Eye cover Zack: 0 Caitlin: 0 There was some eluding to some puking in this film, but nothing was shown thank goodness so the eyes stayed open the whole time. 

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Romantic interest – Zack: N/A Caitlin: N/A As far as Hanks is concerned, there really isn’t a romance in this film. In the extended cut version we watched, we do get a peek into Mr. White’s private life — and, turns out, he’s gay with Howie Long*! Or, at the very least, he drives Mr. White around, but the way they were playfully joking about bringing Guy along for their night out implied some desires there. It was a 5 minute scene at most, but it was adorable. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the most romantically heartbreaking monologue ever to be written (and we certainly have Hanks to thank for this): “I have wasted thousands and thousands of kisses on you – kisses that I thought were special because of your lips and your smile and all your color and life. I used to think that was the real you, when you smiled. But now I know you don’t mean any of it. You just save it for all your songs. Shame on me for kissing you with my eyes closed so tight.” Knife through the heart, Faye. Knife through the heart.

*It’s odd, they don’t even elude to this in the normal cut of the movie, but once you get the scene of him going out with Long, it all makes sense. He’s totally doing Brian Epstein. Getting the guys to wear matching suits. Telling them how fabulous they look. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s there even without this scene spelling it out. Still, not enough to grade his romance on.

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Hanks – Zack: 8.8 Caitlin: 8.6 Though Hanks wasn’t featured through the whole film in terms of his acting, the part he did play was totally memorable and wonderful, as always. He was the cleaned-up version of “A League of Their Own”‘s Jimmy Dugan, far more even-tempered and wise, always being sure to compliment his band — “You guys look great in red, have I told you that?” He’s the lovable manager you want to help you navigate your own life. Hanks is subtle in his Brian Epstein-esque manager, but very effective. He’s wise. He’s intuitive. He can read people and situations and is happy to take these kids along on the rock ‘n’ roll dream. It’s one of his smaller roles. He doesn’t even appear until a full hour into the director’s cut, but he’s great with what he has. 

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Movie – Zack: 9.4 Caitlin: 9.6 Whenever I share with a new friend that I’m a freelance music journalist, they ask me if my favorite movie is “Almost Famous.” It is not, but I think I finally have a worthy rebuttal:  “No, but I adore ‘That Thing You Do!'” Great music, lovable characters (except Jimmy, kick him in the stupid face every day), love, dancing and rock ‘n’ roll. And, what is arguably the most enjoyable scene in any movie ever (see below). I’ll be singing about this one for weeks. Almost Famous is still my favorite, but this movie is spectacular as well. I have it slightly below “A League of Their Own” and Caitlin has it significantly above, so it’s currently in the #3 position, only behind “Forrest Gump” and “Big.” I’d recommend the longer version if you have the time. Even though it adds an extra 45 minutes, this is one to cuddle up for a long night with. 

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One Response to “Tom Hanks Project – That Thing You Do! Review”

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  1. Introduction to The Tom Hanks Project | rockloveaustin - June 19, 2014

    […] That Thing You Do! – 1996 Review […]

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