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Film / That Thing You Do!

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YoooOOOooou, doin' that thing you doooOOOooo...

"A hit record is like a stew. All the ingredients have to come together just right. Otherwise, it's just soup."
Phil Horace

That Thing You Do! is a 1996 comedy movie written and directed by Tom Hanks, who also appears in a starring role.

The story is set in 1964 in Erie, Pennsylvania, 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 favor — their original drummer broke his arm the day of the big local talent competition, and they need a replacement.

Naming themselves the 'Oneders' (as in One-ders) 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 is upset, but the crowd is seen dancing in the aisles, and they win the talent show.

The new version takes off, earning them a gig at "the spaghetti place out by the airport" and inspiring them to make a record 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:

  • The '60s: The film is set in 1964.
  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: With Guy touring with his band, Tina eventually starts a relationship with her dentist.
  • 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. invoked
  • All Drummers Are Animals: Mr. White banks on this, playing up Guy as the "bad boy" of the Wonders and telling him to wear sunglasses. In reality, he's probably the sweetest and most grounded member of the band - though his playing is wild, as shown when "That Thing You Do" is reworked because Guy decides to play fast.
  • All There in the Manual: The liner notes to the soundtrack give further backstory to the songs and the fictional artists that recorded them. It also gives a little more information about Jimmy's post-Wonders career (he released a couple failed solo records on a different label before returning to Play-Tone with The Heardsmen, a band made up of Jimmy and a variety of session musicians.) The notes also reveal Mr. White's middle initial: M.
  • 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. (Or, more likely, it's just another Beatles reference, as the Beatles recorded "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" in German.)
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: After Jimmy gets angry at the group and storms off, Faye tries to explain that Jimmy's a genius and is just as hard on himself as everyone else. After she leaves, Guy scoffs, "If Jimmy's a genius, I'm U Thant."
  • And Starring: Tom Hanks, due to directing the film and playing the band's manager.
  • Answer Cut: When the bass player bails on the band the day of the TV appearance, Guy calls Mr. White on the phone and says "I left 50 messages. WHERE THE HELL IS HE?!" Cut to Disneyland, where the bass player and the Marines he met in the coffee shop are having the time of their lives.
  • Arc Words: Guy is fond of quoting "I am Spartacus" from, well, Spartacus (which had come out four years before the In-Universe date), which serves to nicely describe the movie's arc. It becomes the name of the track he plays with Del Paxton.
  • Artist and the Band: At the height of The Wonders' fame, they get a cameo role in a teen beach movie. Instead of playing themselves, they portray the doubly fictional surf band Cap'n Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters. This becomes a Brick Joke later when The Wonders are getting interviewed and Lenny confidently cites Cap'n Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters as one of his biggest musical influences.
  • Artistic License – Music: Fully averted with the four (later five) actors who play The Wonders, as they received several weeks of individual instruction with their instruments before filming began (Zahn and Embry had played guitar and bass as teenagers, while Larry Antonino, who plays replacement bassist Scott Pell, is a professional jazz bassist). Hanks later commented that the first time Schaech put on his guitar, he looked so awkward that it could have been a car bumper hanging from his shoulder and the effect would have been the same.
  • Aside Glance: From Lamarr at the very end of the film, when Guy and Faye, who have just exchanged their first kiss, decide they're not quite ready to leave the hotel after all...
  • As Himself: The film credits Mickey Mouse and Goofy (portrayed as walk-around characters at Disneyland) as themselves.
  • As the Good Book Says...: When Guy asks Uncle Bob when the band is gonna get the copies of their 45, Bob mentions Luke 21:19 ("In your patience, possess ye your souls") as a way of telling them to be patient. When Lenny, confused, asks "Who's Luke?", Bob then clarifies by telling them the records will arrive on Wednesday.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Guy's musical hero is jazz pianist Del Paxton. Over the course of the movie, he gets to meet him several times, before recording a record with him. Del even compliments Guy on his improvising in the studio.
  • Bad Boss: The foul-mouthed, sandwich-stuffing Play-Tone founder Sol Siler, who is so disengaged from the music side of his business that he hasn't even listened to "That Thing You Do!".
  • 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 jerk, Ken!
    Emcee: [Obnoxiously loud] "Hey! Would you like to buy a chicken?!"
    Heckler: Eat my shorts, Ken!
    Emcee: SHUT UP!!! [away from mic] I'll kick your ass.
  • Birds of a Feather: Lenny starts chatting up the receptionist at Play-Tone by asking how long she's worked there, and she replies by asking how long he's been wearing his pants that tight. He goes into Stunned Silence, and after a bit of back and forth where she invites herself to his hotel room, he tells her that he's going to walk away before he screws it up.
  • Casting Gag: Co-producer Jonathan Demme, best known as a director, cameos as the director of the beach party film the Wonders appear in.
  • Comforting Comforter: Guy immediately notices that Faye is ill on the plane and takes her back to her seat, where he wraps an airplane blanket around her.
  • 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." When a reporter later asks why he's always wearing them, he can only awkwardly respond, "Well, I am the drummer."
  • Creative Differences: In-Universe, this is why the band eventually breaks up in a nutshell: The bass player enlists in the Marines and is replaced with a Play-Tone session bassist, Lenny elopes with a groupie, and then Jimmy Rage Quits over being ordered to do a cover album instead of original songs.
  • Creator Cameo: Jonathan Demme, one of the film's producers, plays the director of the beach movie the band cameos in.
  • Detective Drama: In-Universe: Play-Tone singer Freddy Frederickson's big hit is the theme from a TV show called Mr. Downtown, apparently following the exploits of "the man with the badge in the night."
  • Divorce in Reno:
    • Marguerite says the trope name verbatim after stating she got married in Portland.
    • Lenny has been divorced at least once while living in Las Vegas in the postscript.
  • Doing It for the Art: In-Universe. On the surface, Jimmy presents himself as a "true artist" type and is the one who is most invested in the band itself; of the others, Lenny is clearly more interested in having fun and enjoying the pop-star life while it lasts, Guy is more into jazz and is not overly invested in the band itself, and the bass player seems to view it more as a hobby before he fulfills his true calling of joining the Marines. However, it's pretty telling that when you look closer, most of Jimmy's interests seem to revolve around the commercial and ego-boosting opportunities of the music industry rather than the pleasure of creating art for its own sake; he obsesses over contracts and track listings (specifically ensuring his songs are on there) and, tellingly, for all his clashes with Mr White, continues to work with the same record label with his subsequent band.
  • Doomed by Canon: Gus Grissom is headed for a very dark fate.
  • Dreadful Musician: The trio of guitar-playing hippie women at the talent show.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Jimmy attempting to take full credit for writing the titular song, when Lenny wrote it with him. He also begs Bob to do his romantic ballad on the B-side of their initial record. This establishes Jimmy as somewhat self-centered and an Insufferable Genius, two traits start to become more and more obvious as the film goes on.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Each person in the room is thoroughly disgusted with Jimmy's incredibly harsh break-up with Faye. Mr. White's expression makes it clear he thinks Jimmy is nothing but a piece of shit.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Downplayed, since the movie itself is set over a moderately lengthy span of time for a film. However, in terms of what happens to the characters, they undergo a roller coaster rise-and-fall from obscure garage band to local celebrities to nationally famous pop band to breaking up to back to relative obscurity in what is only a couple of months at most, making it this trope from their perspective. In particular, the band has broken up literally the day after playing their big national TV gig.
  • Fake Band: Pretty much every band or singer shown or mentioned in the film. Averted with actors playing The Wonders themselves, as they all were taught how to play their instruments. (Although it is not their actual playing you hear.)
  • Family Business: Guy's family owns and work at the appliance store where much of the first half of the film takes place in.
  • 15 Minutes of Fame: The Wonders get to enjoy success for roughly two months before breaking up.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Del chuckles when Guy says he's in a band, telling him that he's been in dozens of bands. They get together and break apart. Guy should have taken that as a warning.
    • The band's name in all of its iterations (One-ders, Wonders) is itself a pretty big clue of what their eventual fate after "That Thing You Do!" is going to be. invoked
    • Among Jimmy's suggested band names like "The Chordvettes" is "The Heardsmen", the name of Jimmy's next band.
    • Until he says so out loud, the rest of the band has no idea that T.B. Player is about to join the Marine Corps, even though he's stepping out of a military apparel store in a just-purchased uniform when Faye finds him and tells him the Wonders are on the radio.
  • Foil: Jimmy to Guy. While Jimmy presents the image of the "True" artist "Doing it for the music," he's really more interested in playing the industry game than actually connecting with other musicians, while Guy is genuinely interested in music and goes out of his way to connect with his idols. Jimmy attempts to take sole credit for the writing of "That Thing You Do," despite not only writing it with Lenny but without Guy it wouldn't have become the hit that it was. Meanwhile Guy takes no credit for the song's success, despite being crucial to it's development. Even in the end, Jimmy goes on to become a successful record producer while Guy opens a conservatory to teach aspiring musicians.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble:
    • Guy, calm and has great adaptability on situations (The Realist)
    • Jimmy, The Perfectionist and highly critical of almost anything (The Cynic)
    • Lenny, prefers to empathize than actually stating what's in his mind (The Conflicted)
    • The Bass Player, team player but makes no secret to the band that his enlistment is his priority (The Apathetic)
    • Faye, The Heart of the group (The Optimist)
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Lenny and Kitty, the Play-Tone receptionist, marry in Las Vegas after dating for what seems to be less than a week. According to the epilogue, it doesn't last.
  • Garage Band: At the beginning of the film, the Wonders (as they will eventually be known) play on cheap instruments and rehearse in a garage, making them a literal example of Garage Rock.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: Guy's family consists of him, his father, his mother, and his sister.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Jimmy’s nose is clearly put a little out of joint by the fact that “Shades” comes to exceed his popularity and starts to be seen as the face of the group, despite the fact that Jimmy is the leader of the band. There are also some hints that he is not entirely oblivious to how Guy and his girlfriend are getting closer, but being generally neglectful of Faye he seems less concerned about this.
  • Groupie Brigade: After one successful performance, the band members wade through a horde of screaming girls who then run after their limo.
  • The Heart: In addition to being Jimmy's girlfriend, Faye is also the band's biggest fan and champion, and despite not actually playing an instrument Guy and the others clearly treat her as being a fundamental part of the unit because she's the one who inspires and encourages them. Tellingly, the band barely lasts another day after Faye and Jimmy break up.
  • Hospital Hottie: Tina's dentist is a Hunk. She eventually gets on with him due to Guy touring with the band.
  • I'm Your Biggest Fan:
    • One teen boy gets really hyped about the Wonders, and is downright excited that they pressed a single. Lenny sarcastically refers to him as "their one fan".
    • Guy is this to his idol, jazz pianist Del Paxton whom he meets and gets to jam with after the Wonders break up. Though when he tries to tell him, he accidentally gets the words wrong:
    Guy: You are my biggest fan.
  • Insufferable Genius: Jimmy. After he pitches a fit and storms off at lunch late in the film, Faye tries to explain away his behavior by saying his standards are very high because he tested at genius levels in high school, but by then even she's not believing it anymore. Mr. White also acknowledges he has talent, but a bad attitude for a band leader. 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's also questionable how much the "Genius" part actually applies; while he can certainly write some good songs and clearly has musical talent, he actually has some surprisingly dodgy creative instincts (he seems obsessed with writing slow ballads, and it's fitting that the key thing that makes "That Thing You Do" a hit is Guy's contribution, not his), suggesting that he might actually just be Insufferable.
  • In Touch with His Feminine Side: The bass player imitating the Chantrellines' moves behind the mic.
  • Irony:
    • Despite all of his bitching about the music industry, Jimmy's next band, "The Heardsmen", sign another contract with the same record label, Play-Tone Records.
    • Jimmy is obsessed with lover's lament ballads (which becomes a major point of contention), and the title song was supposed to be one. Meanwhile, he has a loving and devoted girlfriend in Faye, who he can only describe as "sort of like my girlfriend", and it's implied he cheats on her with Diane Dane during the state fair tour. (Then again, Jimmy is probably dating Faye on the rebound, and the song is about his former girlfriend, which is why he doesn't take her seriously as a future partner.)
    • Guy, who was the member of the band who joined last and was only supposed to be a temporary stand-in for the original drummer, ends up being the only member of the band who doesn't quit for one reason or another.
    • The bassist is a forgettable member who leaves while the band is on tour, a couple months before his planned departure, and is replaced by a session musician without anyone missing a beat. However, the title song was, in real life, written by a bassist note  and puts the bassline front and center.
  • Jerkass: 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 Has a Point: Jimmy is a self-centered and self-important jerk, but the politics and marketing-driven studio system (the head of the company hasn't even listened to the band "he" signed and Mr. White's refusal to let him record the kind of songs he actually wants to play) is pretty frustrating for someone who went into it solely for the music. His next band, "The Heardsmen", sign a record contract with the same company, Play-Tone. One has to wonder if an older and wiser Jimmy paid close attention to the contract before signing, and knew what to expect. He also found a band name that had the same homonym wordplay as The Beatles, but wasn't confusing like the Oneders.
    • When Lenny asks Jimmy if he can borrow 200 bucks to go gamble with in Las Vegas, Jimmy tells him to ask Guy cause "he's a sucker". Then when Guy walks in and Lenny asks for 200 bucks, Guy gives it to him without hesitation.
  • Last-Name Basis: Mr. White is always Mr. White to the band; the only time his first name is mentioned is when Sol Siler addresses him as "Andy" once. When Jimmy starts fighting with him, he drops it to a disrespectful "White".
  • The Leader: Although Jimmy founded the band, people interacting with them default to treating Guy as the leader. This is mostly because Jimmy is fussy and self-centered, while Guy is easy to deal with, sensible, and conscientious. On a more symbolic level, although he joined late, it's clear the band would never have been as successful if it wasn't for Guy, making it in some way "his" band.
  • Lovely Assistant:
    • Faye can only come on tour with the Wonders if she serves as their "costume mistress".
    • The girl who does the applause-o-meter at the talent show.
    • Boss Vic Koss has one named Abby, who despises him.
  • Love Triangle: One could potentially claim one exists between Jimmy, Faye and Guy. Except while it's clear their friendship laid the foundation for their future relationship (especially when Jimmy was being a crappy boyfriend), Faye and Guy don't actually display any outright romantic attraction for each other until the end of the movie, and by that point Jimmy and Faye have already broken up. Although even before this, everybody around them can see Guy treats Faye much better than her actual boyfriend.
  • Low Count Gag: Haise snarks after a band performance in a restaurant about "their fan", singular.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Changing the tempo of "That Thing You Do" makes it a peppy pop rock tune, but the lyrics are still Jimmy's lament about the girl who's "breaking my heart into a million pieces, like you always do".
  • Magical Negro: Lamarr, the the doorman at the Ambassador Hotel, who directs Guy where to meet his idol and encourages him to pursue Faye.
  • Makeover Montage: Mr. White arranges for Faye to be outfitted and styled to the nines for the taping of The Hollywood Television Showcase.
  • Mirror Character: Jimmy in the end becomes the type of executive he fought against the whole film. Subtly done by having Jimmy try to take credit for the song despite Lenny and Guy's contributions, and showing that Sol Siler takes credit for "Discovering" the Wonders despite the work Mr. White did. For all his rankling, Jimmy is just as opportunistic as the people he complains about.
  • Music Is Politics: The band learns this the hard way when Mr. White tells Jimmy that the band's contract requires them to record cover songs for most of the songs on the album, re-record "That Thing You Do!" in Spanish, and that the two original songs featured on the album must be uptempo and "snappy".
  • Myspeld Rökband: Parodied. No one can pronounce "the Oneders" correctly. Jimmy's next band is called "The Heardsmen". Fortunately, that band's name isn't phonetically confusing.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Well... Guy. One of his first actions in the movie is paying for Faye and the band's breakfast because he dinged her car. He ensures that she's included when the band starts having success and gives her a radio shout-out when she's sick. He also refuses to make decisions about the band on his own and consults with them when both Phil and Mr. White propose signing them.
    • Mr. White is probably the nicest record executive in the history of music. Although he is still a record exec, and he's far more concerned with keeping control and moving the product (and keeping the profits) than he is with artistic integrity.
    • Lenny is also a pretty good-natured, fun-loving and friendly sort, albeit a bit more snarky.
  • No Antagonist: Tom Hanks's explicit ethos when writing the movie was "no bad guys in my movie". While the band eventually splits and lead singer Jimmy dumps his girlfriend, it's born more out of clashing personalities and goals than outright villainy or antagonism. Even both of the band's managers are on the up-and-up with them, even though Mr. White's ideology of touring and marketing goes against Jimmy's desire to make a follow-up record.
  • 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 and how bass players tend to get ignored in the media. In the epilogue, he's finally identified as "T. B. Player"... that is, The Bass Player. (Embry himself decided his real name was "Tobias Player.")
  • Not So Above It All: In the extended cut, White pesters the clearly-reluctant Gus Grissom into saying hi to Lloyd (White's boyfriend) on the phone.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Three uniformed Marines enter the hotel restaurant just as Faye is exiting and politely step aside for her, calling her "Ma'am."
  • One-Hit Wonder: In-universe, the eponymous song becomes one of these. There's a clue in the band-name; the 'One-ders' (i.e 'One (Hit Won)ders'). Lampshaded by Mr. White.
    Guy: We still have a hit record.
    Mr. White: Yeah, you do. One-hit Wonders. [looks at Guy] It's a very common tale.
    • Interestingly, "That Thing You Do!" peaked at #41 on the Hot 100 in real life, just short of One-Hit Wonder status.
      • In universe, the song reached #7 when Mr. White pulled them off the State Fair tour to go to Los Angeles to start doing publicity gigs and a TV performance. From hearing Hanks talk about the idea he had for the film, I believe it peaks at #3.
  • One-Take Wonder: In-Universe. In the extended cut, after the band records "That Thing You Do", Jimmy tries to convince Uncle Bob to record "All My Only Dreams" for the B-side. Uncle Bob tells him that he has to go record a children's choir in Buffalo. Jimmy begs him to record it, saying "I can do it in one take". Uncle Bob reluctantly agrees.
  • Only the Knowledgable May Pass: Guy asks Lamarr for the name of a good jazz club in town. Lamarr won't reveal it until he is certain that Guy knows his stuff.
    Guy: (wearing a "like, duh" expression) Scottie McDonald.
    Lamarr: Get in the cab. Get in the cab! [to the driver] Take this young man to the Blue Spot.
  • On the Rebound: Jimmy, which is why he's dating Faye, though he only has a cursory interest in her, and why he writes what Mr. White calls "lover's lament crap".
  • The Pete Best: In-universe. Chad, the drummer who broke his arm the night before the Oneders 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: "Oneders", "Heardsmen", "Chordvettes"... Jimmy seems to have a real fondness for these.
  • Rage Quit: The last straw for Jimmy is being told by Mr. White that they're going to get to do an album finally, only for him to dictate under terms of their contract that it will be a cover album rather than original songs. Jimmy quits the band instead, leaving Guy the only original Wonder left. note 
    • While he was definitely upset that he was being ordered to cover songs owned by PlayTone, and to record "That Thing You Do" in Spanish, the last straw for Jimmy was that, while he was, by contract, allowed 1 original song on each side of the LP, Mr. White wouldn't allow him to record "any of that lover's lament crap", which is implied that Jimmy had brought to record. Mr. White wanted additional up tempo (snappy) songs.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Faye, breaking up with Jimmy.
  • Record Producer:
    • Phil Horace, a regional talent promoter. Although he comes off as somewhat sketchy—operating out of an R.V. and taking two weeks to get their song on the radio—he deals fairly with the band. When he realizes they've got more potential than he can cope with, he introduces them to a manager from a national label, Mr. White.
    • Mr. White begins as the Helping Hand variety, sprucing up the band's image, getting them on a national tour, encouraging them to be more ambitious than the state fair circuit, and generally acting as a mentor as well as a promoter. He later becomes Acrimonious when Jimmy starts pressing to be allowed to record new songs, while Mr. White wants to keep the publicity going on "That Thing You Do" and other up-tempo songs.
  • 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.
  • Removed from the Picture: After Jimmy dumps Faye, she stares at a photo of her, Jimmy, and Guy together. Crying, she cuts Jimmy out of the picture, leaving her and Guy. This cut version of the photo appears in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue at the end of the film.
    • Also an example of Family Portrait of Characterization, if you think of the band plus Faye as a family. Guy and Faye are seated close together, looking directly into the camera, and smiling. Jimmy is sitting a little apart from them and staring off into the distance.
  • Rimshot:
    [The audience at Villapiano's claps politely as the band finishes "All My Only Dreams."]
    Lenny: Table 19, your pizza is ready.
    Guy: [plays a rim shot]
  • Romantic False Lead: Tina for Guy, Jimmy for Faye.
  • Running Gag:
    • The mispronouncing of "Oneders" as "Oh-nee-ders." Lampshaded when Lenny snarks, "Hey, that's Oh-NEH-ders." Mr. White puts a stop to it when he becomes the band's manager.
      Mr. White: From now on you boys'll be simply "The Wonders".
      Lenny: As in, "I wonder what happened to the Ohneeders?"
    • Mr. White telling them, "You guys look great in [color of suits the band is wearing today], have I told you that?"
    • Guy leaving the "Patterson's Appliance" sign on in the first half of the movie.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Jimmy dumps Faye, Lenny (who was already planning to elope with Kitty to Las Vegas) awkwardly decides they should get a head start.
    Lenny: Well, babe, really need that desert air in my hair.
    Kitty: Okay.
  • Seen It All: Mr. White informs Guy that the Wonders are in breach of contract—but not to worry, nobody's going to get prosecuted because it's happened many times before and will again.
    Mr. White: It's a very common tale.
    Guy: Well, maybe for you, but I was in a band and we still have a hit record.
    Mr. White: Yeah, you do. One Hit Wonders. It's a very common tale. invoked
  • Ship Tease: The band's original drummer and Guy's sister are paired for much of the film's latter half, though nothing comes out of it (or rather, whether or not something comes out of it is not shown, although he does get invited to have dinner with the family). We also see the bass player getting friendly with one of the Chantrellines (in the Director's Cut, they are actually shown in bed together).
  • Shipper on Deck: Mr. White is clearly of the opinion that Faye should be dating Guy, not Jimmy.
    Mr. White: Faye is... (Beat) ... Faye is special, isn't she?
  • Shout-Out:
    • Tom Hanks is a big fan of the Apollo program. 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 Expy of The Ed Sullivan Show and Hollywood Palace. Additionally, one of the bands that plays on the soundtrack is called "The Saturn Five".
    • Numerous to The Beatles and other pop music acts of the early 1960s. Guy also name-checks several jazz artists at one point.
      • 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's characterization mirrors that of the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein. In the film, Mr. White makes The Wonders wear matching suits and bow at the end of every number; Epstein did the exact same thing with the Beatles to make their act more professional. Additionally, in the Director's Cut, Mr. White is gay, a reference to Brian Epstein's homosexuality.
      • 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", respectively).
      • 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).
      • Jimmy's bow-legged posture whilst playing guitar is likely a nod to Lennon's signature stance during the Beatles' touring years.
  • 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 their producer, George Martin, until they sped up the tempo — and it ended up becoming the Beatles' first ever #1 hit.
  • The aerial shot of the band running and jumping on a map of America on a blacktop is very similar to a scene from A Hard Day's Night where the Beatles run and jump on a concrete pad outside a BBC building.
  • The bass player disappearing and being replaced by a session player for the live TV broadcast and for (what would have been) their first album recording refers to two incidents within the Beatles career. The first is to the recording of "Love Me Do", where Ringo Starr (who had recently been hired by the band after Pete Best was fired) was not allowed to play on the recording by George Martin, who had already hired a session drummer and did not want to rely on an unknown. The second was during the band's 1964 world tour, when Ringo (again) fell ill and was unable to play, requiring the band to temporarily hire another session drummer (Jimmie Nicol) to fill in for him. The latter is also alluded to by Faye falling ill when the band travels to California and missing several of the gigs they do.
  • 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!")note 
    • 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 start, the boys have appropriate garage-band instruments for the era note , and later they get equally appropriate upgrades. note 
    • 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 (with Jimmy trying to get Guy to slow down) and don't really get in sync until halfway through the song.
      • Additionally, the bass player plays a much simpler version of the song's bass line, and he can be seen flubbing a couple notes near the end of the song.
    • The church recording of the song is more resonant than a normal studio recording is because of the wide-open space of the church. A "real" sound studio version would level the music.
    • 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 '60s.note 
    • The talent show is set at Mercyhurst College, which is a very real school that still exists to this day (albeit under a different name, Mercyhurst University). In fact, it's not at all surprising that Mercyhurst would host a music talent contest, given the school's emphasis on the arts. Whether this was a lucky coincidence or a case of Tom Hanks showing his research, however...
  • Solo Side Project: Guy Patterson (the drummer) works on his jazz chops during the band's big tour.
  • Soup Is Medicine: Lamarr offers to send some soup to Faye's room after he sees her buying cold medicine and sneezing in the hotel gift shop.
  • Squick: In-universe, Lenny tells Diane Dane that his first "boy-girl thing" was with a picture of her on a record sleeve.
    Diane Dane: Yeah, charming...
  • Starstruck Speechless:
    • Star-struck at meeting his idol Del Paxton, Guy blurts out, "You are my biggest fan."
    • The entire band is star-struck meeting the Play-Tone stars.
  • Stealing the Credit: At the Play-Tone reception, Sol Siler claims to have signed the Wonders after seeing them play to a rioting crowd in Texas, much to the band's confusion. Mr. White is obviously used to this.
    Guy: But... you signed us.
    Mr. White: Never mind. How'd you like Texas?
    • Jimmy does this with the entire song, insisting that he wrote it himself when in reality he wrote the lyrics with Lenny and Guy was the one who sped up the tempo of the song to make it a hit.
  • Stealth Pun: During the interview with at the jazz station, the DJ asks "which artist popped your cherry" and the bass player said the Chantrellines. In the extended edition, he is seen as having spent the night with one of them.
  • Straight Gay: Mr. White in the extended DVD version. This, perhaps obviously, mirrors the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, whose homosexuality was something of an open secret.
  • Suddenly Shouting:
    • This exchange between Jimmy and Mr. White:
    Mr. White: We bow, right? In unison. And we're off the stage before the applause dies out.
    Jimmy: What if they want an encore?
    Mr. White: You unplug and you run - RUN - off stage! [normal voice] Smiling. Smiling of course.
    • Achieves Brick Joke status when at their biggest performance before a television audience, they're the star act... and still mechanically unplug their instruments and quickly leave the stage.
    • The day of the Hollywood Television Showcase, Guy is still in bed after spending the night drinking at The Blue Spot. He gets a phone call from Mr. White:
    Mr. White: Good morning, Guy, we have a crisis here. Your bass player has disappeared and you are still in bed! Just calling to tell you to GET YOUR PATOOTIE DOWN TO THE TELEVISION STUDIO! YOU'RE GONNA BE ON TV TONIGHT!
  • Take This Job and Shove It: Done in song during a recording session, no less.
  • Technician vs. Performer: The band is skeptical about having session bassist “Wolfman” sub on their TV appearance, but Wolfman quickly shows them up with some impressive playing technique. The wheels in Guy’s head are clearly turning as he observes the respect Wolfman’s professionalism gets from Mr. White, as opposed to his more paternalistic attitude toward the band.
  • Tempting Fate: Naming your fledgling band "The Oneders/Wonders".
  • Temporary Substitute:
    • Scott "Wolfman" Pell, the session bassist hastily brought in to replace the Wonders' original bass player. He turns out to be intimidatingly talented.note 
    • Guy was originally supposed to be this for Chad for the talent show.
  • Thing-O-Meter: The local contest is determined by an "applause-o-meter" where a homecoming queen (or similar) moves her arm in response to audience encouragement. When the Wonders "break the needle", she — previous seen dancing along to the song along with just about everyone else in the room — whips her arms from one side to the other, clearly defining them as "Wicked".
  • Title Theme Tune: The titular song was nominated for an Academy Award. However, there was a second song that qualified that ran during the end credits "I Need You (That Thing You Do)" which had "that thing you do" as its hook.
  • Totally Radical: Uncle Bob says their performance was "totally swingin'!" Lenny is unsure if it's a compliment.
  • 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:
    "One-hit Wonders. It's a very common tale."
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    Guy: Why couldn't you have dumped her in Pittsburgh?
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: In a notable aversion to many bands from the '60s, none of the Wonders become addicts or die young. Hanks said he wanted to show what happened to a band that simply broke up due to conflicts from the members' personalities without any outside interference.
    • "Guy and Faye Patterson were married on April 30, 1965. They raised four children in Venice, California, before moving to Bainbridge Island, Washington. They founded the Puget Sound Conservatory of Music, where Guy teaches Jazz Composition."
    • "James Mattingly II and his new band, The Heardsmen, made three gold records for the Play-Tone label. He is a record producer in Los Angeles, California."
    • "T.B. Player served two tours of duty in Vietnam, receiving a Purple Heart for wounds sustained at the Siege of Khe Sanh. He is a building contractor in Orlando, Florida."
    • "Leonard Haise is the manager of the Golden Eagle Hotel & Casino in Laughlin, Nevada. He is currently single."
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: Chad breaks his arm in an early scene. Though he eventually loses his sling and he gets a smaller cast, his arm remains bandaged for the rest of the movie (which makes sense, given that it takes place over a couple of months).