The Best Movie You Never Saw: That Thing You Do!

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine. This week we’ll be looking at THAT THING YOU DO!

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THE STORY: A mid-sixties pop band, The Wonders, struggles with the sudden onslaught of fame when one of their songs becomes a smash-hit single. Under the watchful eye of an industry vet (Tom Hanks), the young band-mates struggle to define their sound and move beyond being a “one hit wonder.”

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Liv Tyler, Charlize Theron & Tom Hanks. Written & directed by: Tom Hanks.

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THE HISTORY: Very few actors have ever been as hot as Tom Hanks was in 1996. Coming off back-to-back Oscar wins with PHILADELPHIA & FORREST GUMP, as well an another nomination for APOLLO 13, he was crowned Hollywood’s favorite every-man, a status he can still lay claim to twenty years later. Of course, when you ask a Hollywood leading man what he wants to do next, usually he’ll say one of two things. Either he’ll talk about going on tour with his band (Jared Leto, Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, etc) or he’ll say, “what I really want to do is direct…”

Usually, the latter works out a whole lot better, and Hanks opted to join the ranks of Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood behind the camera on his passion project, THAT THING YOU DO. Having also written the script, THAT THING YOU DO is what you might expect given Hanks’s public persona, in that it’s a light, fun-filled nostalgia trip, more akin to a feature-length episode of “Happy Days” than a hard-core story of a band’s journey to success. This isn’t THE DOORS or even ALMOST FAMOUS, with Hanks opting for a gentle PG-rating, meaning no rock star excess.

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Sporting a cast of (at the time) unknowns, with Tom Everett Scott very Hanks-like in the lead, and the icon himself only taking a supporting part, THAT THING YOU DO had to contend with abysmal box-office, markedly lower than anything Hanks had managed in years. In fact, the title track, credited to the fake band “The Wonders” was arguably more successful than the movie, managing major radio play and hitting #41 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hanks’s directorial career went on the back-burner for a while, with him only directing an episode of “From the Earth to the Moon” and “Band of Brothers”, both of which his Playtone (named for the fictitious label he works for in the movie) produced. Years later, he tried again with LARRY CROWNE, which adopted a similar lighthearted vibe, but did worse at the box office and didn’t get as solid a critical reaction as THAT THING YOU DO did. Don’t feel too bad for Hanks though, as he’s cruising for a potential sixth Oscar nomination this year with SULLY, and is still one of the most beloved screen icons of all-time.

“Yeah, it’s amazing that that happened. It’s crazy looking back to think that Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, his partner, had the confidence to pull a song out of a pile and say, “Yeah, we like this one.” So much of what gets done in the music business comes down to “Well, let’s get this guy that did this one thing.” People often don’t trust their own ears. There’s so much money riding on these things, it’s easier to go, “Let’s get the guy that wrote these five things, because he’s hot right now.” But these guys based an entire movie around a song written by some kid who they never heard of. We actually didn’t even know how to submit it, so Mike and I made up a band name and put it on a cassette when we sent it in. We said it was by a band called Scientist Alexis (laughs). It doesn’t exist. It was just me, Mike, and Andy. Tom Hanks just pulled it out and said, “Let’s use this one.” That’s a miraculous thing.”- Adam Schlesinger, member of Fountains of Wayne, writer of the theme song, Consequences of Sound Interview 

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WHY IT'S GREAT: I’ve always had a soft spot for THAT THING YOU DO, but I’m not alone. A whole generation of us has grown up on the DVDs, and now many point to it being one of the best movies ever made about the music industry, even if it’s a distinctly candy-coated, optimistic variation on an oft-told tale (the rise and fall of a band). While only Charlize Theron went on to major stardom after the film, the cast is uniformly charming. Tom Everett Scott (who pops up in the upcoming LA LA LAND) makes a solid Hanks surrogate, and Liv Tyler is at her most lovable, playing the band muse who loves the lead singer (Johnathon Schaech) but really belongs with the cool drummer (Scott).

“Honestly, I don’t look back but I will say, the one that probably comes up in the family a lot is THAT THING YOU DO! Because we were all in it, and it was the first time I tried to write something I could also be in and direct, and if there’s any one we have more affection for, it would be that.” Tom HanksE Online Interview 

Every frame of the movie is imbued with Hanks’s obvious love of the era, with him stocking the soundtrack with originals, many of which he wrote-or-co-wrote himself. Of course, that title song is a major ear-worm. The extended cut of this, which runs a full forty minutes longer, is even better. While 150 minutes is far too long for a comedy, and I’d still recommend the theatrical cut for first-time viewers, fans will enjoy the extended cut the same way you might with ALMOST FAMOUS's director's cut (although this isn’t labeled as such).

The extended version is interesting in that much of the cut footage revolves around Hanks himself, with his character, the cool manager, being revealed to be gay (his on-screen boyfriend is played by ex-NFL’er Howie Long, who Fox was trying to make into an action hero at the time with BROKEN ARROW and FIRESTORM), pretty risqué for a PG-movie in 1996. It’s also notable for restoring much of Charlize Theron’s role as Scott’s girlfriend back home. Despite being largely cut from the film, Theron has always gone on-record about how much she loved working with Hanks, being interviewed for the extended cut DVD and revealing her major crush on him since girlhood. For his part, Hanks says she was the first one he cast and, jokingly, claims he discovered her (although it was actually her third movie).

BEST SCENE: It’s tough to beat the scene when Liv Tyler first hears The Wonder’s “That Thing You Do” on the radio and runs hysterically to the store Scott’s character works at to get him to turn on the radio and enjoy his moment. It actually kinda reminds me of the first time I was quoted in a TV spot (forever earning me the “quote whore” moniker amongst my fellow JoBlo’ers).

SEE IT: THAT THING YOU DO! Is easy to find on streaming, but the extended cut is only available on DVD/Blu-ray.

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PARTING SHOT: I can’t believe it’s been a full twenty years since THAT THING YOU DO hit theaters, but time has been kind to the film. Being a period piece, its somewhat timeless, and the performances, along with Hanks’s knowing direction, allow this one to hold up beautifully. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend checking it out.

Source: JoBlo.com



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