Tom Hanks both writes and directs his first movie with That Thing You Do! It’s a funny, charming, lyrical slice of life 1960’s style. What it isn’t is a jam-up piece of bombastic filmmaking. Instead, it’s simple, sweet, greatly nostalgic, and loads of fun. The low key charms of the piece are reflected in the strong work by its leading men, a well-built music score with new pop songs that sound like they came right out of the era, and assured direction that brings back those long ago days when the pop music charts were regularly dotted by tunes from artists who ended up being one-hit wonders.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 2.0 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Run Time: 1 Hr. 42 Min.; 2 Hrs. 28 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 04/02/2013
An Erie, Pennsylvania, singing group called the Wonders (or One-ders, as they prefer) have great designs to be the next hot singing group of America. In an era swept away by the early Beatles and their rock and roll sound (this is 1964, to be exact), the Wonders are more than suitable Yank equivalents. They’re basically clean cut, pleasant looking boys from middle income suburban families longing to have that hit record that all groups at the time dreamed of. Well, wonder of wonders, they get it! A local pressing of their hit song “That Thing You Do” makes its way to an artists’ agent who works to get the song some regional exposure. After that, it gets picked up on some national stations, and before they can blink their collective eyes, they’re being signed to a big record label, touring the state fair circuit to promote their record (and the records of the label’s other less-than-currently hot names), and eventually going to Los Angeles to appear in a Beach Party-style flick and make TV guest appearances.
The Production Rating: 4/5
So, is this movie going to be about how success goes to the heads of four otherwise reasonably intelligent and hard working youngsters? Not at all. True, the Wonders are a one song wonder, but the Wonders’ story just peters out, surprising to say. Screenwriter Tom Hanks has created some charming and likable characters and then he doesn’t take the time to develop them. We learn in a closing set of title cards what happened to each member of the group.
The charismatic drummer of the band, the one who gives the song the beat that made it a hit, is wonderfully played by Tom Everett Scott. The group’s Paul McCartney look-alike, with supposedly the same ego that Paul possessed, is nicely acted by Johnathon Schaech. Steve Zahn makes an endearingly zany and frustrated guitarist while Ethan Embry coasts through as the least interesting of the group, the bass player who’s already enlisted in the Marines and is merely waiting his turn to join some “real men.” The hangers-on, the parents, and the other loved ones of the group are all true to type and fascinating to watch as the Wonders careen from one plateau to the next until their abrupt dissolution.
Director Hanks has filmed a couple of especially notable segments. A frisky montage of the group’s climbing success on the Billboard charts is staged Monkee-style by Hanks, and it gives the proceedings even more of a true feel of the era than just the astoundingly accurate clothes, hair styles, cars, and music. The group’s appearance on a Hollywood Palace-type show is likewise fraught with excitement and energy bringing to mind those screaming, crying teenagers who watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show all those decades ago.
If the film has a major flaw, it’s that the people aren’t explored in enough depth. (The disc mollifies this problem by also providing the director’s cut of the movie which adds forty minutes to the running time and much more character investigation.) These are engaging characters, and it’s almost cruel to offer us only piecemeal explorations of their personas in the theatrical cut. Liv Tyler’s character, the girl friend of the group’s star, gains enormously when her character is given a more intensive analysis. While Tyler is all right, Hanks might also have cast the part of Faye with a more astute actress. Winona Ryder comes to mind.
The music composed for the film is also quite nostalgic for the period, but wisely no real period music was used. All the songs we hear the Wonders and others perform are originals. The movie’s title tune is performed in whole or in part at least half a dozen times, but luckily it’s such an engaging melody that the constant repetition isn’t that wearing. A later song “Dance with Me Tonight” deserved more extensive play. But then, the whole movie sings; it just doesn’t quite soar.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 transfer replicating the original theatrical print and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness is the erratic component of this transfer with, oddly enough, close-ups offering sometimes softer focus than long or medium shots. There’s also some slight edge enhancement to be seen early in the film. Color is spot-on, and flesh tones look natural and appealing. Black levels don’t plumb the depths of possibility but are acceptable. The transfer is very clean with no age-related video artifacts. The film has been divided into 36 chapters in the theatrical version and 40 chapters in the extended cut.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix uses its full soundstage to great effect not only during the various concerts where screaming fans surround the listener but even more effectively earlier in the movie when Guy and his friends begin turning on radios in his dad’s appliance store to hear their song on the radio for the first time. All of a sudden, sound begins to fill the soundstage impressively mirroring the events on-screen. Dialogue is always understandable and has been placed in the center channel.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
“Feel Alright” Music Video (2:35, SD)
Special Features Rating: 4/5
The Wonders – Big in Japan! (7:01, SD): various cast members discuss the press tour in Japan for the movie where the guys actually went on a little mini-tour as The Wonders.
The Story of The Wonders (30:53, SD): director-writer Tom Hanks discusses in detail the various characters and the plot of the film with clips from the movie used for illustration.
Making That Thing You Do! (13:48, SD): Tom Hanks discusses how he got the script into shape, the casting process for the leads, the five weeks of rehearsal the boys undertook to become a real band, and how it was to act and direct at the same time.
That Thing You Do! Reunion (10:19, SD): Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Ethan Embry, and Charlize Theron (who plays Guy’s girl friend Tina who leaves him for a dentist) reminisce about the film. Additional comments are added by Liv Tyler and Steve Zahn who weren’t present at the reunion.
HBO Presents First Look: That Thing You Do! (13:03, SD): Martha Quinn narrates a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film with strong emphasis on Tom Hanks’ participation as writer, director, and co-star.
Three Theatrical Trailers and a TV Spot Ad (1:39, 2:25, 2:07, 0:33, all SD)
That Thing You Do! is enjoyably nostalgic for older viewers who lived through the era of pop groups who wore matching suits and warbled tuneful ditties that didn’t wear out their welcomes despite hundreds of replays. For others, the film offers a candid look at a certain lost era with warm grace and charm. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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