“Shot Through the Heart” is a weekly segment in which I rant about a story that means the world to me. Each week we’ll go over a film, book, short story, or game that touched me in ways that are hard to put into words without them just turning into word vomit. This week we’re talking about one of the best Rock & Roll comedies ever produced – That Thing You Do!
Tom Hanks is America’s daddy. Sure, Jeff Goldblum is our cool uncle and Robert DeNiro is probably our crotchety grandpa, but Hanks is definitely dad. He’s been a friendly face, charming and warm even in more dark films, and he’s delivered some truly iconic performances.
But did you know he directed? I mean, just twice, but it’s happened. One of them was…less than popular, an uninteresting film that is so far from my memory that I was actually surprised to stumble across it when looking over his filmography. Does anyone remember Larry Crowne? Noop, and no one should. But there’s another one that made an auteur out of the man. It’s a fun little film, one that has some wildly familiar faces and some that no one remembers, but it’s stuck with me since I saw it as a kid. Hell, I had the soundtrack on tape and blasted that damn thing till it unwound.
We’re speaking, of course, of the 1996 film That Thing You Do!
I knew the music before I knew the film. My parents went to see it and were playing the soundtrack in the car on a loop. Each and every song, every lyric and beat, I knew it all by heart. They raced to the local grocery store video rental and I experienced that glorious goofball comedy on VHS at the ripe old age of eight years old. I fell in love.
Following a one-hit-wonder band from origin to armageddon isn’t an easy thing to pull off, but That Thing You Do! does it nicely. Set in the swingin’ ‘60s, the band is formed when drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) stands in with a local group since their own percussionist is out of commission. He’s the key, see, and when he speeds up a ballad that lead singer and guitarist Jimmy (Johnathan Schaech) had written. Joined onstage by dumb but lovable bassist T.B. Player (Ethan Embry) and enthusiastic lead guitarist Lenny Haise (Steve Zahn), the quartet rises in local fame until they’re noticed by Playtone Record Exec Mr. White (Tom Hanks). They scribble on contracts and BAM, tour deal. The band is joined by Jimmy’s girlfriend Faye Dolan (Liv Tyler) and Guy leaves his girlfriend Tina (Charlize Theron) behind for an adventure.
It’s a simple plot, and Hanks at one point even points out how ridiculously common the tale of the one-hit-wonder is. Like many other basic stories, it uses something easy to follow to allow characters to take the forefront (as well as a hell of a soundtrack). Sometimes that’s all you need. It’s kind of fun to keep things simple, right? I mean that in the most sincere way!
From screaming gymnasiums to packed television appearances to the band’s demise, one of the things that I’ve realized is that this thing is structured like a concept album. Most of the tracks are multileveled, able to be assigned to multiple different character perspectives. It’s a fun way to do this kind of movie. At a tight fifteen tracks, it’s a quick listen, deceptively moving the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime at a breezier pace than you’d think.
Let’s go ahead and talk about the musical perspective because each track works really well. The true main characters are Jimmy, Faye, and Guy. Jimmy’s a dick, no way around it, but he’s talented as all get-out. Faye’s in love with him, but she has much more friendly and charming chemistry with Guy. The young drummer is blatantly smitten and not really as into his girlfriend Tina as he thought. As the band travels together most of the songs are from each of their perspectives. With Jimmy, it’s all about the music. He writes Faye songs, but he’s obsessed with getting his artistic slow-jams into the mix as well. Guy just wants to have fun. He’s spicing up the tunes as much as he can, and for the most part, the rest of the band is into it. It’s interesting watching all of them come together and then fall apart. They play their stereotypes well, but Liv Tyler and Tom Everett Scott are really doing wonders here. There’s an earnestness to both the music and these two that is what holds the film together. Hanks’s directorial debut is fun, but it’s only a step away from failure. Sweetness between the leads is what makes this incredible, and having music to match that (especially songs that feel era-appropriate) really turns this into a classic.
Some people really love This is Spinal Tap, others get behind School of Rock, and the incredible little film Sing Street also has its fans. Me? My favorite fake band movie is That Thing You Do! and I’ll defend it to the death. It’s sweet, charming, hilarious, and so incredibly earnest. Hunt it down, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Give America’s dad some credit.