Friday, June 09, 2023

Late Discovery: That Thing You Do!

Melissa (aka “The Colonel”) brought a few DVDs that I might enjoy during her April visit, leaving them behind for me to watch at my leisure. One of them was the 1996 film, “That Thing You Do!” directed and written by Tom Hanks. I had heard of it but didn’t really know much about it. For some reason, this tale about a group of guys who come together through a few twists of fate to be a 1960s pop music sensation had escaped my radar. Now, more than twenty-five years after its release, I am obsessed with it. Why? Let me explain…and yes, for those of you who have also been living under a rock, you will encounter a number of plot spoilers, so I suggest you watch it and then come back here. First reason is the cast. Liv Tyler is adorable as Faye Dolan, with a likeability factor that is off the charts. Tom Everett Scott is also adorable, playing the nerdy yet still ultra cool Guy Patterson.

Johnathon Schaech was the perfect choice to play James, the songwriter and lead singer of the band, The Wonders. He is dark, brooding, and the jerk that doesn’t appreciate his girlfriend, Faye.

Still, Faye is devoted to him.

Steve Zahn plays guitarist Lenny. He provides plenty of ad libbed comic moments throughout the movie.

Ethan Embry’s character had no actual name, and was referred to as “The Drummer” throughout the movie. He was so endearing that Hanks expanded his part…but still never gave him a name. Credits list him as “T.B. Player,” which stands for “The Bass Player,” typically the forgotten bandmember. Ever heard of Stuart Sutcliffe? I rest my case. When asked about it years later, Embry said, “I always thought it was Tobias. I think he probably got shot in the ass. That’s right, because he received a Purple Heart, didn’t he?”

The film also has a number of fantastic cameos, including Chris Isaak, Clint Howard, Peter Scolari (Hanks’ costar from “Bosom Buddies”), Rita Wilson (Hanks’ wife), Gedde Watanabe (Long Duck Dong from “Sixteen Candles”), Jonathan Demme, and NFL defensive lineman Howie Long (his scenes were deleted; more on that later).

The title tune is the song that gets played over and over again, and I couldn’t be happier about that. It is one of those ultra catchy songs that stays in your head and you really don’t mind. I immediately downloaded the soundtrack and it brings me joy every time I hear it.

A favorite scene in the movie is when the group first hears their song being played on the radio. You can’t help but feel their excitement and joy over the thrill of realizing their dream. It is a perfectly choreographed sequence that unfolds naturally. Hanks does such a great job with the characters that you root for them every step of the way…except for James, which was intentional.

Another appealing factor to this movie is its use of locations, like L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre which stood in for Boss Vic Koss’s (Kevin Pollak) rock and roll showcase in Erie, Pennsylvania:

The now defunct Ambassador in Los Angeles (as shown in this vintage genuine FauxD© image from my collection) is the hotel where the band checks in for their appearance on The Hollywood Showcase:

This film was also the first to shoot at Disneyland since the 1962 piece of poo, “40 Pounds of Trouble.” The sequence includes shots of The Bass Player on the Matterhorn with Mickey:

…and near the Castle. The vintage popcorn bag was a nice touch, even if the trashcan style was overlooked.

While I enjoyed the movie, it ended all too soon and seemed to be missing something. I wanted more. As I typically do, I immediately got on the internet to find out details about the production. The film earned about an $8 million profit (if you include international receipts), but was not a runaway smash at the time of release. Sure enough, I discovered that 39 minutes of footage had been cut before the movie was released and that an extended version was available. Within minutes, it was in my Amazon cart.

The longer version is far superior, giving more motivation and character development that seemed to be lacking (along with a number of plot holes) in the theatrical version. If you decide to watch this movie, make sure it’s the extended cut.

My favorite scene? The final kiss. This clip is the ultimate plot spoiler, so please avoid if you plan on watching the movie.

See more Classic Movie & TV photos at my main website.


Darryl said...

Well it's about time! Yeah, there's a lot they nailed like the TV shop...soooo similar to my Dad's shop in little ol' Paradise CA in the 70's "Reed Electronics" and all the similarities to The Beatles. Plus Charlize Theron before she was Charlize Theron. A very fun movie.

Stu29573 said...

As a bass player, who plays Hofner basses exclusively, why yes, I DO know who Mr. Sutcliffe was. He had a great first name too! ;-)

Fifthrider said...

Likewise, I always thought the movie went too quickly and now I know why. Thanks for the info. I'm going to have to see the extended version someday. It sounds more fulfilling.

Daveland said...

Stu - You will forever now be known as TB Player for me!

Stu29573 said...

Thankyavurramuch LOL!

JFSinIL said...

Note the scene shown when the song first aired was largely filmed in downtown Orange! I used to work at a now defunct camera store in the same block as the store used for the appliance store.

Daveland said...

Hi JFSinIL - I really need to visit there! It's less than two hours away. Another bucket list item.