Judge Clark Douglas tries and tries to forget you, girl, but it's just so hard to do.
In every life there comes a time where that dream you dream becomes that thing you do.
"It is very important that you don't stink today."
Facts of the Case
Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott, Southland), Lenny Haise (Steve Zahn, Treme), T.B. Player (Ethan Embry, Once Upon a Time) and Jimmy Mattingly (Johnathon Schaech, Quarantine) are four ordinary guys from Pennsylvania who decide to start a band. It's the early '60s, and Beatlemania is sweeping the country. As such, their Beatles-esque tune "That Thing You Do" catches on with young audiences and soon wins them some paying gigs around the state. Before long, the band catches the eye of a record company executive (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump), who proceeds to make promises of fame and fortune. Can these guys transform the increasing popularity of their catchy single into a lucrative career?
Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do! is the cinematic equivalent of a great pop song: it's fun and breezy, but nonetheless manages to include some melancholy lyricism here and there. Whether you're watching the original theatrical version or the extended director's cut, the movie zips right on by on a wave of nostalgic pleasure.
There's a simple contrast here that is the key to the movie's soulful effectiveness. On the one hand, it's a fairy tale about a group of ordinary guys succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. With each new performance and audition, they seem one step closer to becoming bona fide superstars. On the other hand, the film is ultimately the story of a one-hit wonder, a group that couldn't find a way to grow beyond that one irresistible tune. The story being told only lasts as long as the title tune. It's a portrait of a transformational season in the life of four young men, a beautiful moment shared between friends before life intervenes and sends them on their assorted long-term paths.
Speaking of the title tune: it's an original song penned by Adam Schlesinger, and it's absolutely convincing as a hit song from the era. The fact that we hear the song many times over the course of the film and never grow weary of it speaks to its infectious charm. It's always a challenge for films to produce fake hits that sound like real hits (I'm looking at you, Be Cool), so it's a relief that this one was able to pull it off. Without a great tune at its core, the movie simply wouldn't have worked. In the film, the song becomes a hit due to an accident of sorts: it originates as a tender ballad, but during one performance the drummer decides to pick up the tempo. The songwriter (who also happens to be the lead singer) isn't happy about this, but it's hard to argue with the crowd's crazed reaction. One of the film's great pleasures is the manner in which it examines the band's bewilderment with their own success.
The Hanks character is particularly intriguing—we keep waiting for him to reveal himself as a predatory figure; a record executive who's just using these kids to make a quick buck. But no, there's something almost fatherly about the way he handles the guys. He knows the countless mistakes a young up-and-coming band can make, and he gently nudges his new band in the right direction without becoming too pushy. When he spots elements of tension and conflict, he keeps his thoughts to himself and waits to see whether the band will be able to sort out their own problems. He's been through this routine too many times and knows that if the band can't handle the little problems early on, they won't be able to handle the serious challenges later. Hanks' final scene is one of the film's best; a tender-yet-firm moment in which the executive offers a handful of simple truths.
While Hanks is easily the film's biggest star, his role is a supporting one. The man tasked with carrying the bulk of the film is Tom Everett Scott, the band's most passionate and musically literate member. While the other guys have various other distractions that begin to preoccupy them as the band rises to fame, Guy remains focused on the music at all times. There's a lovely moment when Guy finds himself tossing aside his chance to score with a sexy waitress (Hanks' wife Rita Wilson, It's Complicated) so he can meet with an aging jazz legend (Bill Cobbs, The Hudsucker Proxy) who happens to be dining at the same restaurant. Among the other guys, the standout is Steve Zahn, who does his lovable goofball schtick as effectively as ever. There's also a fine turn from Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) as the lead singer's increasingly-neglected girlfriend, and from Charlize Theron (Young Adult) as Guy's exceptionally vapid gal pal.
That Thing You Do! (Blu-ray) arrives sporting a weak 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. The image is quite soft and often looks pretty beat-up, with a surprising number of scratches and flecks present for a film made in the mid-'90s. Some prominent noise is present at times, and detail isn't great. It looks better than it would in standard-def, but not by much. Very disappointing. At least the DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is solid, particularly during the big concert scenes. Dialogue is crisp and clean while the music and sound design is robust and immersive. Supplements include the theatrical cut of the film (which I slightly prefer—the extended cut offers some nice new moments and a whole lot more of Theron's character, but it's not as smoothly-paced as the original), a handful of featurettes ("The Wonders! Big in Japan," "The Story of The Wonders," "Making That Thing You Do!," "That Thing You Do! Reunion" and an HBO First Look special), a music video and some trailers.
A lovely film gets a lousy transfer. By all means see this winning flick, but don't bother upgrading if you already own the DVD.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2013 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.