You guys look great in red--have you told you that yet?

As emotional recovery to a film that I will only link a very accurate review to, I put in my VHS copy of possibly my all-time favorite movie: That Thing You Do!* (1996). I've seen this movie more times than I can count, can quote entire scenes, and have a ton of inside jokes with my sister about it. In other words, the great film to make me happy again.

Written and directed by Tom Hanks, That Thing You Do! permeates with the good-natured humor and easy charm of the movie star, and the cast brings it to life perfectly.

It's the 1960s, and Tom Everett Scott plays the drumming protagonist Guy who works in his father's appliance store. He's 20-something with little life direction and a very attractive girlfriend played by Charlize Theron. Guy is recruited to play percussion for a local band when their drummer Chad (Giovanni Ribisi) falls down trying to jump a parking meter.

Guys, Chad fell down.

Guy masters Jimmy (Jonathon Schaech) and Lenny's (Steve Zahn) song "That Thing You Do" quickly, but speeds it up when they play at a local college talent show. While it's an awkward adjustment to a faster tempo, it's a genius move that gets the band going.

Give me a pen. I'm signin'--you're signin'--we're all signin'!

Soon, the band finds itself with a hit single and records to sell at a local Italian restaurant. They're soon recruited by a man who wears black socks with shorts. "Would you step into my office please?" Horace asks, while leading Guy into his camper filled with stew and beers. The whole band is there and they sign a contract, although Jimmy reluctantly.

There he goes, off to his room, to write that hit song "Alone in My Principles."

The rest of the film shows the rise and breakup of The Oneders/Wonders. They get recruited by Play-Tone records' Mr. White (Tom Hanks), thanks to Horace, and start to tour all over the country while their record climbs the charts. Soon, Jimmy's serious side directly conflicts with the band's contract, Lenny runs off with a Playboy bunny, and the military dreams of the bass player (Ethan Embry) cause him to eventually leave the band, too; Guy ends up stuck in the middle with his love of playing good music. The fair Faye (Liv Tyler), Jimmy's girlfriend, is also along for the ride, although to the detriment of that relationship and to the good of another.

As in I wonder what happened to the Oh-neders?

It's a simple story of a young band, but like I said before, the cast makes it a fun ride. Tom Everett Scott plays Guy as a relatable good guy(!) with a talent for music and a life open for new experiences. Schaech is appropriately serious and handsome. Embry is incredibly sweet and innocent. I don't know that I've seen any of these three actors in any film even half as good or act half as well in as in That Thing You Do! Anyway, Liv Tyler is lovely and plays a supportive and perfect girlfriend. It's also a lot of fun to watch Tom Hanks in a supporting role. He's still got a big presence, but it's used to be a straight man to the band's youth.

Lenny, why don't go and see if you can visit the cockpit. Tell 'em it's your birthday. Go! Go!

But the real standout in this cast is Steve Zahn. Almost every line out of his mouth is comedy gold, a perfect mixture of good writing and great delivery. A standout scene is when the band is interviewed at a Midwest county fair for TV and he tells the reporter that "Oh, I'm not here with these fellas. I got a pig in competition at the livestock pavilion, and I am gonna win that blue ribbon!" And Mr. Zahn gets to be the leader singer to one of my favorite songs on the soundtrack:

If that was a pick-up line, we're a match made in heaven.

Other small things like the bass player mimicking the Chantrellines' dance moves, Guy's enthusiasm for jazz, throw-away lines, behind the scenes views of the business of TV and music, and the fabulous 60s settings and costuming make this worth multiple viewings. Appearances by familiar but not too recognizable faces in fun minor roles like Chris Isaak, Alex Rocco, Chris Ellis, Rita Wilson, Kevin Pollack and Clint Howard just add to the film's fun.

I lead you here, sir, for I am Sparticus.

It's incredible that a tight script, competent acting, a clean but not cheesy story, and good music don't come together that often, but this is a case where it does. The only recent film I can think of that does that is Slumdog Millionaire. Films like these might not be considered the best/most groundbreaking films in the history of film, but they make for solid and extremely rewatchable cinema. When you sit down in your living room looking to relax and you want to watch something light and satisfying, something like That Thing You Do! is always the best choice: you don't have to think too hard, but you don't feel like you wasted your time or brain cells either. And for me, that's a great film.

*Exclamation point included in the title, although I am really enthusiastic about it as well.


  1. It's so wonderful to know I am not alone in the obsession of this film. It is practically perfect in every way. Thank you for sharing it's awesomeness with cyberspace.

    P.S. - I love your blog.

  2. I'm also ga-ga over your invigorating and brainy blog, Kelsy.

    I haven't seen That Thing You Do since 1996 and don't remember a thing about it. I even forgot that Charlize Theron was in it. What I do recall is its title song and its vibe, which was fun and managed not to feel condescending.

    Rock movies are so hard to pull off. I think the reason this one is appealing is that instead of trying to document what Ray Charles or Johnny Cash or Diana Ross did behind the scenes at a certain point in history, it captures the feeling of the period.

  3. It's worth a rewatch, I promise.