J.D. Lafrance
That Thing You Do!: Tom Hanks’ Extended Version DVD Review

That Thing You Do!: Tom Hanks’ Extended Version

May 8, 2007

Director: Tom Hanks,
Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Liv Tyler, Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron, Holmes Osborne, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Ellis, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

That Thing You Do! (1996) is Tom Hanks’ tribute to the slew of rock ‘n’ roll bands that followed in the wake of the Beatles’ phenomenal worldwide success. Record companies in the 1960s were desperate to find the American equivalent in the hopes of making the same kind of profit. The result was a lot of one hit wonder wannabes. Hanks’ film (his directorial debut) is a fictionalized account about one of these bands. With this new DVD, he has revisited the film, adding 39 minutes of deleted scenes to it.

After their regular drummer (Ribisi) breaks his arm, a band approaches one of their friends to fill in. They rehearse for a talent show, playing the one original song, “That Thing You Do,” a slow ballad-type deal. However, at the show, the overly enthusiastic drummer speeds up the tempo and the crowd eats it up, breaking spontaneously into dance. They easily win the show and realize that they are onto something. Guy (Everett Scott), the drummer, becomes a permanent member of the band and they call themselves the Oneders (bad idea) and start playing gigs in their home town of Erie, Pennsylvania. Jimmy (Schaech) is the good-looking singer and primary songwriter. Lenny (Zahn) is the wisecracking guitarist who is interested in picking up girls. The bass player (Embry) doesn’t say much and is content to go along with what everybody else wants to do.

Guy uses his family connections to allow the band to make a record, a single of “That Thing You Do” and it transforms them into a minor local sensation. The Oneders soon get their song played on the radio and their popularity only increases. They meet Mr. White (Hanks), a slick executive from Play-Tone Records, who signs them to his label. He changes their name to the Wonders, changes their look to smart-looking suits and takes them on a whirlwind promotional tour across the country. Along for the ride is Jimmy’s fun-loving girlfriend Faye (Tyler) and, to a lesser degree, Guy’s uptight girl, Tina (Theron).

Hanks does a nice job of recreating the time period, complete with vintage cars, outfits and hairstyles but doesn’t dwell on them too much or draw unnecessary attention to them. Best of all, is the music. The band’s hit song is indicative of the era’s pop music (think of it as the whitebread flipside to the Dreamgirls’ music), a catchy three minute ditty that sticks in your head. Hanks also captures the youthful energy of these young guys – the rush of playing in front of an appreciative audience that loves their music and the excitement of hearing their song on the radio for the first time. He is also successful in conveying the dynamic between the band members and how it changes over time, especially after they enjoy national exposure and success. Predictably, it affects them in all kinds of different ways. Hanks shows how success can spoil a band. Egos get inflated and this often leads to conflicts within the group. There is also the pressure to follow up a hit with another and another so that the record label continues to make money.

For his directorial debut, Hanks wisely doesn’t try to bite off more than he can chew. He keeps his ambitions modest and isn’t too flashy with the camerawork. He understands that nothing should get in the way of the story or the characters. However, his script does show a lack of experience as little things, like a repeating gag of Guy proclaiming, “I am Spartacus,” wears thin very quickly. With this new extended cut he has provided too much of a good thing. The additional scenes pad out the running time to over two hours and what was once a tight, pop song has become a bloated power ballad. Fortunately, the perfectly fine theatrical cut is included as well.

That Thing You Do! is an affectionate, nostalgic look back at simpler, more innocent times, just before the country became mired in the Vietnam War and the social and political climate changed radically and with it the music. Hanks recaptures a time when hundreds of screaming teenage girls would mob the bands that they worshipped, a time before the Internet so that music was promoted via the radio which had the power to make or break a band.

Special Features:

There is the music video for “Feel Alright” that features a montage of clips from the movie.

“The Wonders! Big in Japan!” takes a look back at the promotional tour for the movie in Japan with footage of the actors goofing around at the time. The actors recount amusing anecdotes about their experiences. They even showed up to talk shows dressed in character performing “That Thing You Do.”

“The Story of The Wonders” is a promo featurette done at the time of the film’s original release. This is pretty standard fare with interview soundbites with Hanks and the cast with lots of clips from the movie.

“Making That Thing You Do” examine the creation of the movie and was done at the time of the film’s release. From Hanks writing the screenplay to the finished product, this is much more substantial than the previous featurette and goes through the casting process and then takes a look at how the four lead actors learned how to actually play their instruments and act like a band.

Easily the best extra is “That Thing You Do! Reunion” which reunites Charlize Theron, Johnathon Schaech, Tom Everett Scott and Ethan Embry with Steve Zahn interviewed separately. They laugh and reminisce about doing the film. They talk about auditioning and how Hanks gave them the freedom to improvise. Everyone dishes filming anecdotes in this fun extra. Sadly, Hanks is strangely absent which seems rather odd considering what an obvious labour of love this film was for him.

“HBO First Look – The Making of That Thing You Do!” is a brief look at how the film came together hosted by ex-MTV VJ Martha Quinn that essentially repeats a lot of what is included in previous featurettes.

Finally, there is a TV spot and three trailers.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 77%



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