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Film: That Thing You Do!

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).


That Thing You Do! contains examples of:

  • All Drummers Are Animals: Mr. White banks on this, playing up Guy as the "bad boy" of the Wonders. In reality he's probably the sweetest and most grounded member of the band.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Jimmy, who clearly has at least some Hispanic in his ethnic makeup — which may be why, late in the film, Mr. White insists that the band re-record their hit in Spanish.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of those early-1960s One Hit Wonders formed after the success of The Beatles in the United States, and The British Invasion that resulted.
  • Berserk Button: The local talent show host doesn't take heckling well:
    Emcee: How do you sell a chicken to a deaf man?
    Heckler: You're a jerkhead!
    Heckler: Eat my shorts, Captain!
    Emcee: SHUT UP!!! [away from mic] I'll kick your ass.
  • The British Invasion
  • Cool Shades: Mr. White gives Guy a pair when he signs the band, and renames him 'Shades' in the process. "Wear them at all times. They're your trademark."
  • Defictionalization:
    • 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.
  • Earworm: the one-hit Wonders' one hit, "That Thing You Do" .
  • Excited Show Title!: Based on an Excited Song Title in-universe.
  • The Face Of The Band: Invoked Trope; Mr White gives Guy a pair of Cool Shades to make him stand out.
  • Fake Band: Pretty much every band or singer shown or mentioned in the film.
  • Five-Man Band: Played in two configurations:
  • Garage Band
  • Garage Rock
  • Groupie Brigade
  • I Am Spartacus: Guy shouts this several times at key moments. Naturally, it becomes more and more ironic.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Fašade: Minor case; Mr. White acts like a typical hard-nosed studio executive, but is a pretty decent guy when all is said and done. Of course, he's played by Tom Hanks, so this is probably to be expected.
  • Love Triangle: Part of the tension of the movie stems from the love triangle between Jimmy, Faye and Guy. Although it's Jimmy who thinks that marrying Faye would be bad for the band, and his dumping her for this reason is seen by the other band members as rather tasteless.
  • Magical Negro: Lamarr, the the doorman at the Ambassador Hotel, who directs Guy where to meet his idol and encourages him to pursue Faye.
  • Myspeld R÷kband: Parodied. No one can pronounce "the Oneders" correctly.
  • 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.
  • One-Hit Wonder: The titular song. There's a clue in the band-name; the 'One-ders' (i.e 'One (Hit Won)ders').
    • Lampshaded by Genre Savvy Mr. White.
      Guy: But we still have a hit record.
      Mr. White: Yes, you do. The one-hit Wonders. (smiles at Guy) A very common tale.
  • The Pete Best: Chad, the drummer who broke his arm the night before the One-ders took off. He ends up taking Guy's place at the appliance shop when the band goes on tour.
    • The incident is a great example of a Funny Background Event. Apparently parking meters and slippery hands don't mix.
      T.B. Player: Guys ... Chad fell down.
    • To a lesser extent, T.B. Player, given that he's replaced just before the band's national television debut.
  • Punny Name: "One-ders", "Heardsmen", "Chordvettes"...Jimmy seems to have a real fondness for these.
  • Real-Life Relative: Tom Hanks' wife plays the waitress at the jazz club. His son Colin plays an usher.
  • Re Cut: In 2007 an "Extended Edition" DVD was released with more than half an hour of additional scenes. Both cuts of the film are included on the Blu-ray release.
  • Running Gag:
    • The mispronouncing of "One-ders" as "Oh-nee-ders." Lampshaded when Lenny snarks, "HEY, that's Oh-NEH-ders." (Mr. White puts and end to it by telling them to make it just "The Wonders".
    • Mr. White telling them, "You guys look great in [insert color of suits the band is wearing today], have I mentioned that?"
    • Guy leaving the "Patterson's Appliance" sign on in the first half of the movie.
  • Shout-Out:
    • 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.
      • 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".
    • There's a montage/Music Video sequence of the "Play-Tone Caravan of Stars" that's straight out of The Monkees.
    • The Wonders have a cameo role in an Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon-style teen film, Weekend at Party Pier.
      • The character of "Goofball" in the beach movie could just as well be named "Gilligan".
    • Lenny is apparently a big fan of Bonanza and The Beverly Hillbillies.
    • 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.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • 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 
  • The Sixties
  • Spoonerism: Star-struck at meeting his idol Del Paxton, Guy blurts out, "You are my biggest fan."
  • Straight Gay: Mr. White in the extended DVD version.
  • Take This Job And Shove It: Done in song during a recording session, no less.
  • Tempting Fate: Naming your fledgling band "The Oneders/Wonders".
  • 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".
  • Variety Show: The Hollywood Television Showcase, an Affectionate Parody of (or Homage to) The Ed Sullivan Show and Hollywood Palace.
  • What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?: They've got one song, which is a runaway hit, and you want to call them the Wonders? It's even lampshaded by Mr. White when Jimmy quits:
    "Yes, you still have a hit record... the one-hit Wonders. A very common tale."
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    Guy: Why couldn't you have dumped her in Pittsburgh?
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue:
    • Jimmy made more hit records for Playtone and now works as a record producer in Los Angeles.
    • Guy and Faye got married, had four kids, and founded a music school in Washington state.
    • Lenny manages a casino in Nevada.
    • T.B. was decorated for his service in the Siege of Khe Sanh and is a building contractor in Florida.

The Mirror Has Two FacesAcademy Award for Best Original SongTitanic
That Lady in ErmineCreator/ 20 th Century FoxThose Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
Ragtag Band of MisfitsMusic StoriesThis Is Spinal Tap
SwingersFilms of the 1990sA Time to Kill

alternative title(s): That Thing You Do
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