Written and directed by Tom Hanks, "That Thing You Do!" opens in 1964 Erie, Pennsylvania. Jazz drummer wannabe Guy Patterson, played by Tom Everett Scott, has just been discharged from the army and he's working for his father at Patterson's Appliances in the kind of downtown area that we just don't see anymore. Guy's friend Lenny (Steve Zahn) is in a band with no name and they find themselves in need of a drummer for a college talent contest when their timekeeper Chad breaks his arm playing leapfrog over parking meters. Guy quickly learns their song, and inadvertently names the band, the One-ders.
The band, led by James Mattingly III (Johnathon Schaech) wins the talent contest because Guy steps up the tempo of their song so that the college kids will dance to it, and they gain the attention of the owner of a spaghetti restaurant called Villapiano's, who hires the band to play at his restaurant for $100. After the session, a fan asks where he can get the record of their popular song, and that sparks the band to make one of their very own. When the record gets noticed, a small-time manager signs the band and gets their song on the radio. The rest is a whirwind of sudden fame, fast money, and inflated egos, as the band's record climbs the charts.
Without giving any more away, I think Tom Hanks did a remarkable job writing and directing this movie and appears in a minor supporting role as big-time record producer Mr. White. I'm amazed that he has't directed another. The movie has charm, wit, and some very young up-and-coming talented performers, like Giovanni Rabisi and Charlize Theron. Great attention is paid to the period, as the sets and wardrobe reflect the still-hopeful time of the mid-1960s, before Viet Nam was a household word and man had landed on the moon.
The hit song that the band records really could have been a hit song in that period. It hits all the right notes. It's a good thing, too, as it is played roughly ten times throughout the movie and strangely, it never gets tired for me. In fact, if you listen to it carefully there are subtle differences in each playing, as the band becomes more refined and experienced. If you really watch this movie (and I have seen it at least 50 times. That is not an exaggeration.) you can also see how the band upgrades their musical instruments as they grow into their roles as national sensations. The matching suits of different solid colors and the slightly longer hair reminds one very much of the Beatles at the time.
The performer who really steals the show, I think, is Liv Tyler. Liv plays Mattingly's girlfriend, Faye, and I think that the 60s look really suits her. She may have been born 20 years too late. She evokes the innocence of the age very well, and I think this was her best role to date, despite the fact that it was one of her earliest.
There are movies that I can't help but watch whenever they appear on television. Mel Gibson's "Payback" is one, as is "Tommy Boy" with Chris Farley. But "That Thing You Do" just continues to charm me every single time I see it. I'm still amused by the fact that The Bass Player literally goes through the entire movie with no name. Since he is one of the four band members, I have to think that Tom Hanks lost some kind of bet to have chosen to make a movie where one of the main characters has no name. The coolest thing is that he succeeded.