Wednesday, December 10, 2014

That Thing You Do!

Written, directed, and co-starring Tom Hanks, That Thing You Do! is the story about the brief rise and fall of a band from Erie, Pennsylvania who become one-hit wonders during their meteoric rise to stardom. The film is an exploration into the world of 1960s pop-rock music as a jazz drummer comes in to play for a local band as he changes their fortune into this one song that would become a major hit for the band. Starring Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Liv Tyler, Charlize Theron, and Chris Ellis. That Thing You Do! is a charming and entertaining film from Tom Hanks.

The film is a simple story of a band from Erie, Pennsylvania during the early 1960s where they ask a local jazz drummer to fill in as he would do something to their song that would help them win a contest and later achieve fame and success all in a brief span of time. While it’s a film with a common story about one-hit wonders, there is something very engaging in the way Tom Hanks tells the story as it plays to not only aspects of his own youth in an age where British bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Dave Clark Five inspired kids to pick up instruments and play rock n’ roll. It is largely told from the perspective of four young guys who had struck a chord with their audience and talent agents who believe that these guys have something. Yet, their success is short-lived due to mistrust towards record labels as well as other things as its drummer in Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) is seen by many as the smart one who is responsible for the band’s success.

Hanks’ screenplay definitely plays to this traditional schematics of a rise-and-fall scenario yet it’s more about how Guy Patterson turned this little band in Erie called the One-Ders (often mistaken for the O-Needers) and gave them attention by turning a ballad called That Thing You Do! into an upbeat pop-rock song in order to win a local contest. Though Guy was just a replacement drummer, his desire to win is what changes things as the fortunes of guitarist/vocalist/leader Jimmy Mattingly (Johnathon Schaech), guitarist/vocalist Lenny Haise (Steve Zahn), and the unnamed bass player (Ethan Embry) go well as Jimmy’s girlfriend Faye (Liv Tyler) joins them for the ride. Even as they would get the song recorded with the help of Guy’s uncle Pastor Bob (Chris Isaak) that gets the attention of a local manager in Phil Horace (Chris Ellis) who would then give the record to Playtone talent agent Mr. White (Tom Hanks) who would manage and rename the band as the Wonders into stardom. Mr. White would take the band on the road with other acts from the label as the Wonders become stars just as the song races up the charts.

While there are elements of cynicism about the way the record industry works, there is still this air of innocence as it relates to the band’s rise as everyone including Faye are excited. Upon the news that the song went top ten and the band had to leave the touring circuit for a chance to appear on national television, things change where Jimmy begins to question things about the band’s future. While Jimmy is seen as the talent of the group, Faye as the muse, Lenny as the buffoon, and the bass player as the innocent player. Guy is always seen as the smart person in the band as he is the first to ask questions about contracts and such as well as what the band should do. While Guy is having lots of fun, he still has a desire to play jazz which is his first love as he would meet his idol in Del Paxton (Bill Cobbs) who would tell him the dangers of being in a popular band and all of the trappings of stardom late in the film. All of which culminates with the band’s performance at a national TV show for all of America to see but it would also be a moment that would shape the band into their downfall.

Hanks’ direction is very simple as it does have this feel of a film that is set in the 1960s in a small town in Pennsylvania. Much of it involve Hanks just keeping things to the point such as his introduction to Guy Patterson as this young man who works in his father’s appliance store while spends much of his off hours playing along to his favorite jazz records. It is in sharp contrast to the more raucous world of rock n’ roll which Guy likes but prefers jazz as Guy always looks more like a guy who is into jazz while everyone else is more in tune with what is happening in the 1960s. Hanks’ approach to humor definitely feels natural as well as having this air of spontaneity such as the scene where the original drummer Chad (Giovanni Ribisi) breaks his arm which would lead to Jimmy and Lenny asking Guy to fill in. Hanks’ compositions don’t aim for elements of styles though there are some homage to the pop films of the 1960s including the surfer film where Jonathan Demme makes a cameo as that film’s director.

The direction also plays into that world of 1960s pop concerts and talent contests where the latter showcases a variety of music performances from folk to mariachi music where it would be the One-Ders that would steal the show due to Guy’s fast drumming on Jimmy’s ballad. Hanks’ usage of crane shots definitely play to the scope of some of the performances as well as how audiences react to these shows. Even as Hanks uses an intimacy to play into the Wonders’ rise where they play clubs as it has an air of excitement which is a major contrast to the climatic TV performance they would play where the cameras are much broader in its look while the song itself becomes, expectedly, a bit tiresome which is typical of one-hit wonders. Yet, it does play into how brief a one-hit wonder band career can be but it would lead to moments for these individuals who would prosper with their brief encounter with fame. Overall, Hanks creates a very delightful and fun film about a band’s brief rise and fall as one-hit wonders.

Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto does excellent work with the film‘s colorful cinematography for much of the daytime exteriors including scenes in California along with the intimate and dark look of the clubs the Wonders would play early in the film as well as the broad lights of the variety show they would play. Editor Richard Chew does brilliant work with the editing in creating a few montages to play into the band‘s success along with some stylish cuts to convey some of the film‘s offbeat humor. Production designer Victor Kempster, with set decorator Merideth Boswell and art director Dan Webster, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the look of the appliance store Guy‘s family runs as well as the hotels and other places to play into the look of the 60s. Costume designer Colleen Atwood does wonderful work with the costumes to play into the looks of the characters from the colored suits they would wear as a band to the clothes that Faye wears.

Visual effects supervisor Steve Rundell does nice work with some of the minimal visual effects such as the audience the Wonders would play in the tour along with a few tricks to make the film look like it was set in the 60s. Sound editor Richard King does superb work with the film‘s sound as it plays into the sound of the audience singing along to the song as well as some scenes set in intimate places such as the basement where Guy plays his drums. The film’s music by Howard Shore is terrific for its mixture of 60s-based kitsch music with a few orchestral touches and some guitar-pop flourishes to play into the period of time in the film. Even as the film’s original music features songs written by Hanks, Shore, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, and several others to play into that period of 60s rock and pop music plus some jazz pieces.

The casting by Howard Feuer is incredible as it features cameo appearances from Peter Scolari as the variety show host Troy Chesterfield, Gedde Watanabe as a Playtone photographer, Tracy Reiner as the star of the beach film, Jonathan Demme as that film’s director, Barry Sobel as the goofball in the beach film, Clint Howard as a radio DJ, Bryan Cranston as Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Marc McClure as the TV show director, Colin Hanks as Faye’s escort to the TV show, Elizabeth Hanks as a bored girl at the dress shop, Rita Wilson as a jazz club waitress, Holmes Osborne as Guy’s father, and Giovanni Ribisi as the Wonders’ original drummer Chad who would break his arm.

Other notable small roles include Chris Ellis as the drummers’ original manager Phil Horace who would get the band to play top gigs around Pennsylvania, Alex Rocco as the Playtone Records boss Sol Siler, Robert Torti as the pop singer Freddy Fredrickson, Chaille Percival as the pop diva Diane Dane, Obba Babatunde as a hotel concierge who would treat Guy and Faye with great care, and Chris Isaak as Guy’s uncle Bob who would record their first record. Bill Cobbs is superb as jazz legend Del Paxton whom Guy idolizes as he would finally meet him at a Los Angeles jazz club as he would warn Guy about the fleeting moments of fame and being in a band. Charlize Theron is wonderful as Guy’s self-absorbed and vain girlfriend Tina who is often concerned with how she looks rather than what Guy does. Liv Tyler is fantastic as Jimmy’s girlfriend Faye who is the muse for the songs that Jimmy writes as she joins the band on tour where she definitely connects with Guy in terms of having fun.

Tom Hanks is amazing in a supporting role as Playtone music executive Mr. White who watches over the Wonders in their rise to fame while making sure they do things right as he takes a liking to Guy for his talent and brains. Ethan Embry is terrific as the unnamed Bass Player who is an aspiring Marine as he is the most innocent member of the group that has a thing for the soul-singing group the Chantrellines. Steve Zahn is funny as Lenny as the dim-witted member of the group that likes to have a good time and flirt with the ladies. Johnathon Schaech is excellent as Jimmy Mattingly as the group lead singer/songwriter who is the most serious member of the group as he hopes to create his own music until he realizes what he must do to make it. Finally, there’s Tom Everett Scott in a brilliant performance as Guy Patterson as a jazz-loving drummer who joins the Wonders as he reaches stardom and becomes famous for wearing sunglasses while being the smartest person in the group into doing what is best for the band.

That Thing You Do! is a phenomenal film from Tom Hanks as it features a great cast and a fun soundtrack. The film is definitely a very joyful and exciting film that not only captures a period in time where everyone was having fun listening to rock n’ roll but also in how young men formed bands in the hopes of making it. It’s also a film that manages to be re-watchable and still manage to be as potent since its original release. In the end, That Thing You Do! is a sensational film from Tom Hanks.

© thevoid99 2014


ruth said...

Hey, I quite like this one, not a bad debut from Tom Hanks! I really like the soundtrack too. Wonder whatever happen to Tom Everett Scott, he's actually pretty memorable here.

thevoid99 said...

The last thing I saw Scott in was that awful movie with Billy Crystal, Marisa Tomei, and Bette Midler.