Welcome to Redeeming Features. The blog where I (poorly) review movies that are underappreciated, underrated or under the radar, in hopes of convincing you to give them a second chance. This week, we’re taking it back to middle school. Well, at least for me. My buddy, Eric, and I used to watch this film on repeat while double-fisting bottles of Coca Cola and powdered donuts we stole from his old man. I guess you could say we were “rebels.” I’ll also accept “cool kids.” Meaningless, and about as deep as a kiddy pool, this flick is definitely one you can just simply sit and watch, enjoying it for its playful one-liners and at times, utter silliness.
This week, we’re watching That Thing You Do!, a fun little number that follows the rags to rich-ish rhythm of fake 1960’s rock band, The Wonders (previously spelled “One-ders” but had to change due to the constant barrage of fans pronouncing it the “oh-need-ers” or “ah-ned-ers”). Taking pace in Erie, Pennsylvania, we follow the life of our young talents as they follow the flow of 1960’s rock music. ‘Twas a time steeped in doe-eyed Beatles fans and girls with dresses that cover their ankles. What a time, eh?
The plot, while centered on the band, is really centered on the center OF the band – the drummer, Guy "Skitch" Patterson (Tom Everett Scott). Guy works in his old man’s appliance store, only to sneak into the basement after hours so he can jam his groovy tunes on the ol' turntable. Quickly, we realize he ain’t cut out for the life his father leads and will never make it as manager if he doesn’t learn to turn the darn store sign off at night. Grovel grovel grovel.
Guy joins the band after their original drummer, Chad (Giovanni Ribisi), has an unfortunate run-in with the ground while trying to hop street meters little kid style. Ya know, when you put your hands on the middle, jump, and push yourself over/try to not rock your undercarriage on the bar? Nobody else? Cool. Moving on. He topples over, subsequently injuring half of what makes him valuable: his arm. In the words of their bass player, T.B. Player, “Chad fell down.” And no, you didn’t read that incorrectly: the bass player’s name is T.B. Player. Like, in the credits and everything. And he is played by Ethan Embry? Don’t know who that is? Go figure.
Anyways, Chad’s broken arm ends up being their lucky break. Because Guy, who happens to be one heck of a drummer, has the vision to up the tempo and challenge the band to take on a slightly different tune. A difficult task considering they only have one song, obviously titled “That Thing You Do!” Needless to say, the crowd goes wild. Well, everyone except the lead vocalist, Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech), who still maintains that it’s “too fast” because it’s supposed to be a “love ballad” written for his girlfriend, Faye (Liv Tyler). But, he quickly gets over it after they start raking in the gigs at airport diners/presidential flashcards. Read: money.
Several mediocre gigs and a manager-in-a-trailer later, and the boys have made it: their first tour through part of Pennsylvania. And it’s only a matter of time before big, shiny Playtone Records' exec tries to scoop them up. Mr. White (Tom Hanks) hears about the kids, likes ‘em, and wants to take things to the big show – HOLLYWOOD! Now, you’re probably thinking, “Who is Tom Hanks?” because surely it can’t be THE Tom Hanks, right? WRONG. It can and it is. Especially since That Thing You Do! was written and directed by the castaway himself. His first film. Which is weirdly fitting, given the lovingly unpolished nature of everything.
Speaking of unpolished love: the golden state doesn’t offer much for our golden boys as they quickly start to tarnish. And what was once thought to be going swimmingly, feels more and more upstream. Drowning in their surge of fame, the Wonders’ begin to riff. And not in a good way. Who wrote what? Whose girl is whose? Should I join the Marines or run off to Vegas for a quick elope? Many of life’s everyday questions come front and center.
All in all, I’m not saying you’ll be like Eric and me and start begging for an encore when the outro finally comes to a close. But I will say That Thing You Do! is definitely worth the initial watch; if not for anything more than a delightful distraction from the litany of work you have to get done today. *sobs quietly* And just keep in mind: it was Tom Hanks’ first film, it was made in the 1990s, set in the 1960s, and above all else, meant to be silly. I mean, it’s about a one-hit wonder with girl problems, not Mötley Crüe with Nikki-Sixx-snorting-heroin-from-a-fire-hose problems.
TL; DR – A small-time band one-hits it big when its new drummer decides pick up the pace, but have difficulty keeping up.
Cody Tidmore is a Level Two sketch student at DCH. He’s been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Seeing it all – the good, the bad, even the ugly. And when it comes to annoyingly working movie quotes into regular conversation, he’s the reel deal.