That Thing You Do! (1996) – Review

3 Stars

That Thing You Do! is Tom Hanks’ directorial debut. It’s such an innocuous, sweet-natured, and minor film that calling it cute isn’t polite, but rather an accurate description. This feather-light tale of a one hit wonder boy band in the 1960’s is predictable every step of the way, which results in a story that would have been deemed TV movie worthy if Hanks hadn’t been behind the project.

“The Wonderers” are a teen pop over-night sensation due to their chart climbing single titled, “That Thing You Do”. The group stumbles onto success when their replacement drummer,Gus (Tom Everett Scott), changes the tempo of lead singer, Jimmy’s (Johnathon Schaech), love ballad. The upbeat drum heavy rendition is an instant smash in their local area. The snappy tune catches the attention of Play-tone records talent manager Mr. White (Tom Hanks), who shepherds the boys through fairs to performing on the most watched nightly variety program on television.

Things fall apart just as quickly as success and fame were attained. Jimmy wants to perform his own music and not the studio mandated cover songs. Their bass player (Ethan Embry) deserts the group to pursue his ambitions of serving in the Marines. And girl-crazed Lenny (Steve Zahn) would rather chase women and party than play music. Leaving only Gus, who has adopted the moniker “Shades” because he wears sunglasses on stage, to fulfill his ambitions of playing with legendary Jazz musicians he idolizes.

Today That Thing You Do! would be a HBO mini-series or a FX channel original. Twenty years ago Hanks star wattage was bright enough to propel this rudimentary film into a modest box-office success. The title tune is catchy, though it’s played a bit too often by film’s end, and was nominated for an Oscar for best song. The performances are appealing, especially Liv Tyler as the band’s unofficial cheerleader. A forgettable, but sweet tale of a one-hit-wonder band.

Director: Tom Hanks
Stars: Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Tom Hanks

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