1996 comedy movie written and directed by Tom Hanks, who also appears in a starring role.It's 1964 in Erie, PA, not long after The British Invasion. Reluctant appliance salesman / fervent amateur jazz drummer Guy "Skitch" Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) is drafted into a garage band formed by friends Jimmy Mattingly (Johnathon Schaech) and Lenny Haise (Steve Zahn), as a one-time favour — their original drummer broke his arm the day before the big local talent competition.Naming themselves the 'One-ders' (as in Wonders) on the sound-for-the-time logic that a Punny Name worked for The Beatles, the band intends to perform a slow ballad written by Jimmy and Lenny called "That Thing You Do". The night of the comp, however, Guy leads them off at a much faster tempo than they'd rehearsed, giving them no choice but to transform it into a snappy pop number. Auteur Jimmy and easy-going Lenny are both upset (as is their nameless bass player)... until they see the crowds dancing in the aisles.The new version takes off, earning them a gig at "that Italian place down by the airport" and inspiring them to make a recording to sell at the door. Eventually this attracts the attention of a local talent scout, who in turn introduces them to Mr. White (Tom Hanks), a record company executive who thinks he can take them to the top — but only if they agree to change their name.With their record zooming up the charts, hordes of screaming fans greeting them at every stop on tour and a gig on The Hollywood Television Showcase, the sky's the limit for the newly renamed Wonders... until they start trying to cope with success.... and Guy develops a not-unreciprocated interest in Jimmy's girlfriend Faye Dolan (Liv Tyler).
Tom Hanks named his production company Playtone after the fictional "Play-Tone Records" in the film.
Additionally, on the soundtrack CD, there are songs by fictional stars The Vicksburgs, The Heardsmen, and Del Paxton, all of whom were mentioned in the movie but never actually shown performing.
As part of the promo tie-in, many radio stations at the time placed the title track on regular rotation, crediting the song just as they would for an actual band. Some stations are still doing this more than a decade later.
Insufferable Genius: Jimmy. Even Mr. White states it. He's the only member of the band to continue producing pop music, although Faye and Guy end up as music teachers and open their own school.
It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: A running gag about the band's name; it's supposed to be pronounced "ONE-ders" (as in a pun on 'Wonders'). It's usually pronounced "Oh-NEE-ders". At one point, an exasperated, but apathetic Lenny corrects the restaurant owner at their first gig: "Hey, that's 'oh-NEH-ders...'"
Jerk Ass: Jimmy. Broadly hinted throughout — he tries to weasel Lenny out of his writing credit for "That Thing You Do" in the first ten minutes of the movie — gradually building to an epic case by the climax.
No Name Given: The band's sweetly nerdy bass guitarist (played by Ethan Embry) is never actually named in the film — another nod to the ephemeral nature of the band. In the epilogue, he's finally identified as "T. B. Player"... that is, The Bass Player.
Tom Hanks in the 90's was obsessed with the Apollo program, which is why the leads are named after astronauts (Mattingly, Haise, Patterson) and Doomed By History Gus Grissom appears on the variety show.
Numerous to The Beatles and other pop music acts of the early 1960s. Guy also name-checks several jazz artists at one point.
Several characters have names which are references to astronaut characters in Apollo 13 (Haise, Mattingly, White). And astronaut Gus Grissom is a guest on The Hollywood Television Showcase, which is itself a Shout-Out to the The Ed Sullivan Show and Hollywood Palace. Additionally, one of the 'bands' that plays on the soundtrack is called "The Saturn Five".
And yet another Shout Out: the "CAREFUL GIRLS, HE'S ENGAGED" is a direct reference to The Beatles' performance on Ed Sullivan, when John Lennon had the subtitle "SORRY GIRLS, HE'S MARRIED."
Mr. White expecting the band to re-record "That Thing You Do!" in Spanish may be a shout out to the Beatles' re-recording of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" in German (as "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" and "Sie Liebt Dich").
There's a scene where Sol Siler addresses Mr. White as "Andy". Andy White was the session drummer used on the second (hit) recording of the Beatles' "Love Me Do".
A Beatles allusion only the truly obsessive fans caught: There's a scene where Faye almost gets detained by security because the guards don't know she's with the band, but Guy sees what's happening and tells them to let her through. That really happened to John Lennon's first wife, Cynthia, once (Lennon, being who he was, didn't notice, and she ended up missing the outing as a result).
There's a montage/Music Video sequence of the "Play-Tone Caravan of Stars" that's straight out of The Monkees.
Another slightly oblique Beatles Shout Out; "That Thing You Do" starts off as a slow ballad, but when Guy ups the tempo of the drumbeat, turning it into a quick-paced pop song, it becomes a very popular #1 hit. Something similar happened with "Please Please Me", which was originally written as a Roy Orbison-style crooner, but it didn't really click with the band and the producer until they sped it up a bit — and it ended up becoming the Beatles' first ever #1 hit.
All the actors that make up The Wonders are actually playing their own instruments and singing, the result of months spent rehearsing as a de facto band prior to filming. (Asked about the many reps of the song throughout the movie, Tom Everett Scott pointed out that "We had to hear it a lot more than anyone else!")
The film does a very good job of getting period details such as cars, clothes, and signage right. The guitars are also correct—at the beginning the boys have appropriate garage-band instruments for the era, and later they get equally appropriate upgrades.
In the talent show performance of "That Thing You Do," where Guy springs a faster tempo on the rest of the band than they'd rehearsed, Jimmy and Lenny are believably "behind the beat" for most of the first verse and don't really get in sync until halfway through the song.
During his argument with Faye after the TV appearance Jimmy is shown changing his guitar strings. This is a good idea for anyone planning on recording the next day (as he is) since it will give it a "fresher" sound.
Casey Kasem and Dick Clark both said that "That Thing You Do!" would have been a smash hit had it been released in the 60's.note And in fact, it did do fairly well, reaching #41 on the Billboard charts along with some decent radio play, not bad for a song specifically written to sound like it was from the 60's, but released in the middle of the 90's
Thing-O-Meter: The local contest is determined by an "applause-o-meter" where a homecoming queen (or something) moves her arm in response to audience encouragement. When the Wonders "break the needle" she whips her arms from one side to the other, clearly defining them as "Wicked".