‘Bands come and go. You got to keep on playin’, no matter with who…’
I have a number of ongoing cinematic projects running at any one time. Watch all the Best Picture winners. Watch all of the IMDB #250. Watch every Stephen King adaptation. And so on. Another one of these missions is to imbibe every Tom Hanks film. To live and breathe the Hankster in the hope that some of his wholesome all American charm rubs off on me and inspires me to, I dunno, live on a fishing boat or something. That Thing You Do! has everything I would normally look for in a movie (aside from the annoying exclamation mark in the title which I will be ignoring from here on out). It’s set in the ’90s. Tom Hanks writes, directs AND stars. It has a great soundtrack. Liv Tyler. All this is wonderful. Sadly, That Thing You Do never quite gels in the way that it should…
A local Pennsylvania band manage to do that one elusive thing that other people spend a lifetime trying to achieve – they write a good song. That song sees them go from wide-eyed wannabees to bona fide stars in a whirlwind of girls, good times and great music. Superstar manager Mr White (Tom Hanks) is with them every step of the way.
Firstly, That Thing You Do is clearly a labour of love for Hanks. It’s a dreamy, wish fulfillment puff piece that idolises small time America in the ’60s, but it’s shot in such a lovingly enthusiastic way that it would be curmudgeonly and overly cynical to complain. Tom Everett Scott is cool personified as drummer and erstwhile band leader Guy Patterson and the rest of the cast fulfill the rolls of rock star cliche in a way that never feels tired or unoriginal.
Now, the key to a film about a one hit wonder, is the hit. That titular song that plays throughout That Thing You Do had to be good. You must hear it at least ten times, so it had to be catchy, compelling and convincing whilst also managing not to succumb to being an anachronism. Luckily, songwriter Adam Schlesinger, most famous for his band Fountains of Wayne, came up with the perfect track to fit this very specific criteria. His song was eventually nominated for an Oscar, and can probably feel aggrieved at missing out to some terrible nonsense from the Evita soundtrack.
That Thing You Do is a lovely film. It’s incredibly nice. It’s so nice however, that there is barely a whiff of conflict, nor any challenges to overcome. The stakes are low throughout. This results in a picture that is lacking in tension but high in wholesomeness. Possibly one for Hanks completist. Having said that, if you’re not a Hanks completist, do you even like cinema? No. The answer is no.