That Thing You Do! review by Mike LongOne of the benefits (or downfalls depending on your point of view) of DVDs is the fact that the special features included on the discs have taught the general public a great deal about filmmaking. I can only imagine that there are those who assumed that a finished film was exactly what the filmmakers intended and are thus fascinated by deleted scenes. Often these excised moments are superfluous and aren't worth watching. But, occasionally we are allowed a glimpsed into an artist's original vision, especially with director's cuts of movies. The director's cut of Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do! show that the Oscar-winning actor had some ambitious ideas with his directorial debut.
That Thing You Do! is set in the sleepy town of Erie, Pennsylvania in 1964. There, jazz fan and amateur drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) spends his days working in his father's appliance store. Then, one day, Guy's life suddenly changes. A local band, made up of Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech), Lenny (Steve Zahn) and a bass player (Ethan Embry), ask Guy to play drums for them in a local talent show, as their regular drummer (Giovanni Ribisi) has broken his arm. Guy reluctantly agrees and after he changes the tempo of the song, the group wins. They are then recruited to play at a local restaurant. While jazz is still Guy's first love, he enjoys playing in the rock band, but his girlfriend Tina (Charlize Theron) is bored by the whole thing. During rehearsals, Guy often finds himself talking to Jimmy's girlfriend, Faye (Liv Tyler). The band is soon courted by a local promoter, who gets their song on the radio. From there, they are signed to the Play-Tone record label by Mr. White (Tom Hanks), and the band is off on a cross-country tour. But, as the band is rising in popularity, there is trouble in the ranks. Jimmy is increasingly moody and unhappy with the direction the band is going; Lenny is distracted by trappings of fame; the bass player has enlisted in the Marines. Can Guy keep the band together just as they are on the verge of their big break?
That Thing You Do! marks the feature film debut for Tom Hanks as a writer and director. While watching the film, it's fairly easy to guess Hanks' strategy in approaching the making of the film. He cast relative unknowns in the lead roles and then surrounded himself with veteran actors (as well as friends and relatives) for the supporting characters. By having young, and presumably malleable, actors in place, Hanks could focus on their performances while the other, more seasoned players brought their experience to the table.
The result is a film which truly works as a nice piece of entertainment. Hanks doesn't seem to be going for any deep meanings or artistic statements here -- he simply wants to make a good movie about a rock and roll band and he succeeds admirably. The rags to riches story is a familiar one, and I'm sure that there are those who would say that this film parallels the lives of many real bands from the 60s. However, Hanks (and his actors) is able to infuse each character with their own unique personalities and this really boosts the film. The story doesn't contain any great twists or revelations, but Hanks clearly defines each role and by letting us get to know the characters, he hooks the audience. This intimacy with the characters creates an emotional bond with the audience and this helps to boost the film over its often hackneyed material. For example, Jimmy isn't just a jerk, he's an egomaniacal jerk who can't appreciate his good fortune. Instead of simply disliking Jimmy, we hate him and hope for his comeuppance. Similarly, Lenny isn't just the goofball of the band, he's the comedic center of the film and Zahn plays the character perfectly.
It shouldn't be implied that the story doesn't work, because it does. Hanks has the good sense to roll things out in an orderly and believable fashion. The band's rise to fame is certainly quick, but it's all linear and always makes sense. Once the band begins to get noticed, we are able to experience this new sensation through their eyes, and instead of simply being spectators, we want the band to succeed as much as they do.
Watching That Thing You Do! a decade later is certainly an interesting experience. Being a period piece to begin with, the movie doesn't feel dated and the story and characters are still very appealing. It's the actors involved who are surprising. Despite the promise shown in this film, Tom Everett Scott, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, and Johnathon Schaech, aren't exactly household names today (but they have done some good work, to be fair). Conversely, the two leading ladies in the film, Charlize Theron and Liv Tyler, have gone on to fame and one Oscar win.
That Thing You Do! strikes a chord on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, but there is a noticeable amount of grain on-screen for most of the movie. There are also some scenes where video noise is present. The colors look fine and the framing appears to be accurate. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.0 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround effects are generally limited to crowd noise, but the film's music sounds great and does get a bass boost from the front channels.
The DVD contains both the theatrical cut of That Thing You Do! as well as a Director's Cut which runs some 35 minutes longer. This has the feeling of the "everything but the kitchen sink" cut as it contains many, many superfluous scenes which weren't in the final cut. Most of these scenes show what Tina was doing while Guy was on tour. We also get a closer look at Guy in some early scenes which were cut. The most interesting part of this Director's Cut has to do with Hanks' Mr. White character. I'm not going to give anything away, but we get to see a different side of White here, and there's a shocking cameo involved as well. Fans of the film will definitely want to check out this new footage.
The rest of the extra features are found on Disc 2 of his 2-disc set. We start with the MUSIC VIDEO for "Feel Alright" by Josh Clayton-Felt. In "The Wonders! Big in Japan!" (7 minutes) Hanks and the band members describe their promotional tour of Japan, where they performed as a group and felt like rock stars. "The Story of The Wonders" (31 minutes) has archive comments from Hands and the band as they describe the story of the movie. Having just watched the film, this feels sort of pointless. The 14-minute "Making That Thing You Do!" has the typical electronic press-kit feel as we are treated to comments and some behind-the-scenes interviews. With "That Thing You Do! Reunion" (10 minutes) Theron, Scaech, Zahn, Embry, and Scott reminisce about the film in a modern-day interview. "HBO's First Look -- The Making of That Thing You Do!" (13 minutes) is very similar to the earlier "making of". The final extras are three TRAILERS and one TV SPOT.
7 out of 10 Jackasses
That Thing You Do!
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