Monday 11 February 2008

That Wonder-Full Thing You Do!

Tom Hanks 1996 writing and directorial debut, That Thing You Do! was the delightful account of the Wonders - a Pennsylvanian pop group who hit the US No 2 spot in August 1964 with their self-penned hit, That Thing You Do!

No doubt recalling his own experience of bands as a drummer in the 60's, Hanks creates a thoroughly enjoyable story of the one-hit Wonders and their rise from talent contests to package tours leading to National TV and the inevitable break-up due to musical differences.

There are some clever and well observed scenes like The Wonders' debut of That Thing You Do! at a talent contest; switching on every radio in an electronics shop when their single is played on the radio; and their first and final TV appearance.

Hanks direction hits all the right buttons and he gets some good performances out of the cast and in addition, plays the part of Mr White, The Wonders' implausibly nice guy manager. Hanks lookalike Tom Everett Scott plays Guy the cool be-shaded jazz loving drummer, Johnathon Schaech plays moody guitarist Jimmy Mattingly, Steve Zahn is goofy guitarist Lenny Haise while Ethan Embry is T. B. Player the dorky bassist destined for military service. A luminescent Charlize Theron plays Guy's blonde bouffanted girlfriend, while Liv Tyler is wasted as Jimmy's doe-eyed squeeze who seems resigned to sitting round looking mopey and useless. It all turns out for the best in the end though and the film closes with an American Grafitti - style 'what happened to' end title sequence.

Of course the Wonders never really existed but watching them and listening to the soundtrack of this fun film, you'd almost believe and wish they did. The titular single is especially good. Like the movie, the music in That Thing You Do! is a masterpiece of intricate detail. From the iconic Play-Tone label to the selection of songs from a number of imaginary bands, made real with biographical sleevenotes that recall the best 1960's label collections. Apart from the six excellent Beatley Wonders' tracks and a James Mattingly 'solo hit', you also get the Mitch Miller styled Norm Wooster Singers, The Spectoresque girl group The Chantrellines, a bunch of surf style instrumentals, some torch singing, a bit of modern jazz and much, much more.

Whilst That Thing You Do! may lack the saltiness and realism of that other great band movie The Commitments, it is a happy feel good film that reminds you what it feels like to be young and with a band.

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