That Thing You Do!

I was arranging my CD collection recently and came across the soundtrack album for Tom Hanks’ 1996 film, That Thing You Do! TTYD! tells the story of the Wonders, sometimes spelling Oneders, pronounced o-Need-ers, an Erie, Pennsylvania garage band of 1964 who write a hit song, hit the big time, and then break up. The soundtrack album, rather than document Howard Shore’s score, presents itself as a collection of songs from the PlayTone Galaxy of Stars, and as the Wonders were PlayTone’s greatest success they receive the lion’s share of attention on the album.

My sister and I had a tradition in the mid-90s–we would go see every Tom Hanks movie together–and seeing That Thing was no exception. It was always disappointing to me that That Thing‘s box office draw wasn’t especially great, that the film didn’t find an audience. But people who have seen the film, like the film.

I popped That Thing in the VCR and gave it another watch. It’s one of those films I could never tire of because it’s charming, because it doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. Band comes together, band starts to tour, band goes to Hollywood, band breaks up. But on that simple framework several interpersonal dramas play out–drummer Guy Patterson and his parents, the relationship between Guy and his girlfriend Tina and the parallel relationship between lead singer Jimmy and his girlfriend Faye, the relationship between Jimmy and the Wonders’ manager, Mr. White. It’s in these little scenes of personal interaction where the real charm of the film plays out.

If the film has a weakness it comes in the final half of the film, once the Wonders reach Los Angeles. There the film takes on a disjointed feel, and the development of the band in the first half of the film seems detoured. In the last half of the film, even as Ethan Embry’s character receives more screen time and more development he never receives a name! At the end when the film does a “Where are they now” for everyone in the band, it gives his name as “T.B. Player.” And then in the closing credits, he’s listed as “The Bass Player.” Never in the film does he have a name.

I’ve long hoped for a director’s cut of That Thing You Do!; Tom Hanks’ first cut of the film clocked in at close to three hours, and the film as released came in at about ninety minutes. There’s one definite cut that’s obvious in the final version of the film, though, and that’s when the Liv Tyler character rips the photograph of a moment that we never saw happen in the film. That’s not to say that such a scene where the characters were sitting on a bench was filmed, only that I wondered when the film came out why the importance of that photograph. Also, other scenes not in the film cropped up in the music videos released to coincide with the film’s original songs. I don’t think they were major cuts to bring the running time down, though. Obviously not, given that the film holds together so well.

That Thing You Do! isn’t the best film ever made, but it is an enjoyable film, an amiable film. You could do far worse some night when nothing else is on television, though I doubt you could do much better.

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