Rated PG for infidelity. Really, there's people who treat each other like jerks, but that's the only real offensive content. Can the MPAA rate something as offensive if someone's just a jerk throughout the movie? Probably not. It's an overall pretty clean movie that served to be one of those surprise great family movie nights. PG.
DIRECTOR: Tom Hanks
I woke up and I was already on my last nerve. My oldest daughter brought in my youngest daughter who was screaming. Everyone was demanding things. My wife, bless her, allowed me to sleep for an extra hour. But tensions had not stilled in that time and my kids just got more and more demanding since then. So it's going to be fun to try to match the fun tone of what might be the world's most entertaining joyful movie ever, That Thing You Do! The exclamation point is well deserved.
Because I'm incapable of being emotionally vulnerable enough to put a good-time movie on my favorites list, I have to present That Thing You Do! as a movie that actually isn't a perfect film. It's a very entertaining movie, especially if you have the soundtrack memorized ahead of time. I'm not proud of this, but I'm not ashamed either, that I have the That Thing You Do! soundtrack memorized. My wife does as well, as does my sister-in-law. I know, because we sang all of the songs. I know that you probably thought that the only song in the movie is the titular song, but you would be mistaken. Sure, the titular song is sung something like eleven times over the course of the film, but that's beside the point. In terms of actual narrative, Tom Hanks has fictionalized rock biopic after rock biopic. We know the story of That Thing You Do! because it has been told in reality a million times. Hanks is probably smart that he beat a bunch of rock narratives to the punch, but all of the beats are there. I mean, he named the band "The Wonders" for goodness sake.
We can't claim that That Thing You Do! is an amazing story (or maybe you can? Who am I?), but we can understand that it is both a love letter to a specific era in music coupled with a charismatic script with characters that shine. Again, a friend from high school went to town that plot doesn't necessarily matter and That Thing You Do!, despite being a small fry in the grand scheme of things, might be a great example of him being right. Hanks plants all of the seeds of chaos throughout the movie. We know that The Wonders are not going to be the Beatles. With a frontman like Jimmy constantly reminding the audience that there are toxic elements in this group, the audience's role in the film is not to imagine The Wonders changing the face of music, but wondering when they are going to fall apart, pun not intended.
The smartest thing that this movie does is make Guy the protagonist. Guy is both the fantasy of the rock god coupled with an avatar for the audience. He's a fan. He's probably Tom Hanks, if Tom Hanks would be honest about it. He loves music so much and he's remarkably talented at what he does, but he is an outsider. I actually kind of get why Jimmy is so hostile to him. He's this outside element. He represents how fickle loyalty is in the name of stardom. But Guy becomes the face of the band. We all know it's Jimmy's band. Guy technically didn't write anything, but he gets to come in with the cool shades and the attitude that makes the song work. But that's what makes Guy such a compelling protagonist, besides the whole rock fantasy element. Guy fundamentally gets what makes a song work.
One of the weirdest moments in the movie is Guy's co-opting of the titular song. He was this guy (pun intended) that was brought in because the drummer broke his arm and he was just supposed to play one song. During practice, he took orders and worked as a for-hire performer. During that time, he never spoke up and said, "Hey guys. I know I'm new here, but maybe my fresh perspective could give us an edge" and then continued to play "That Thing You Do" like a boss. There was never that scene. It's a really weird choice that Guy, right as they're about to start the Battle of the Bands contest, mentally screams "I want to see the world burn" and rocks out as hard as he can. Yeah, it worked, but it really shouldn't have. And Guy is too talented of a drummer to not know what he's doing. Look at that dude's face and tell me that he doesn't know what he's doing? Yeah, it's sexy that he's our protagonist, but I would hate him if I was Jimmy too.
It's odd how hard the movie goes out of its way to make sure that the male and female leads aren't cheating on their significant others. I mean, thank goodness. I instantly seize up when I discover that the protagonists are the ones who are doing the cheating. But to make that happen, they have to completely leave the romantic moments for the last five minutes of the film. Like Guy's co-opting of "That Thing You Do", it works even thought it shouldn't. I mean, the movie doesn't hide the fact that the chemistry between Liv Tyler and Tom Everett Scott is there throughout the film, but the fact that it doesn't really indulge it makes it all the more palpable. Sure, maybe there's a bit too much kissing when they finally do (that thing they do), but it is pretty darned satisfying to watch that moment play out.
I think this is the movie where we all started to love Steve Zahn as well. He had a little wildfire following this movie. Even when I would watch Saving Silverman for the hundredth time on Comedy Central, he would always be the guy from That Thing You Do!. Again, this is all about character dynamics, so Steve Zahn reminds us that The Wonders really have potential. Jimmy is the toxic element. Lenny is the attractiveness of being a rock star (it's good times!), Guy is the audience, and The Bass Player is both the absurdity of the entire situation coupled with the clock. I talked about how the story didn't really matter in That Thing You Do! because everything else is great. There at least is a clock on the whole piece. The band has to get as good as it can before the Bass Player goes off to the military. It's basic storytelling, but I actually kind of love it. It's stupid stakes, but I don't deny that it is a stake to fight for.
That Thing You Do! when it all comes down to it is a fun movie throughout. I never got bored, despite the fact that I've seen this story so many times. I like when a movie goes heavy, but really good candy is still really good. Tom Hanks is a good director. I don't know how you write a hit for a movie that actually feels like a hit, but I adore that song. It's been a while since 1996, but this movie still holds up.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.