Thursday, April 16, 2009

Look Out, Wisconsin! It's-- The Wonders!

Another one of my favorite movies of all time is “That Thing You Do.” I know several of my friends (and my blog friends!) have a deep affection for this film as well, so I can only hope to do it justice!

I have loved “That Thing You Do” ever since it came out in theaters in 1996. The soundtrack was one of the first CDs I ever owned; I consequently know every word of every song. An endlessly quotable movie (“You gotta be quick! You gotta be quick with me! I’m from Eerie, PA!”), “That Thing You Do” was actually written and directed by Tom Hanks. After the weight and scope of “Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump,” and “Apollo 13,” Hanks was urged to take some time to work on a project he’d been thinking about for a while. A comedy about a band in 1964. Thus “That Thing You Do” was born.

Let’s just call us “The band you’re about to hear!”
“That Thing You Do” is the story of four guys in a local group who, after a series of very fortunate circumstances, end up signed with and touring for the famed (and fictional) Playtone Records. Though they start out The One-Ders (“It looks like The Oh-Need-ers!”), their name is soon simplified to The Wonders (“From now on you boys will just be simply The Wonders.” “As in… ‘I wonder what happened to The Oh-Need-ers?’”). This of course completes the joke that they are indeed the “one hit” Wonders (“It’s a very common tale.”), and the rest of the movie is spent not only chronicling the continued rise in fame for the band, but also in ensuring that they will never record another song and that The Wonders themselves will not stay together.

Are you crazy? A man in a really nice camper wants to put our song on the radio! Gimme a pen, I'm signin'! You're signin'! We're all signin'!
I absolutely adore all the excitement that permeates throughout the entire movie. It’s like a tiny victory for the audience every time The Wonders succeed, and you want to applaud their win at the Mercy Hurst talent show, congratulate them for getting discovered by an agent, and most definitely scream and jump and dance with them when they hear their song on the radio for the first time. That is truly a transcendent moment, and a great picture of pure, unadulterated joy.

Even later in the film, their excitement never fades. As their record climbs the Billboard charts and as they meet famed stars of the Playtone Galaxy, they never fail to celebrate each milestone with the fervor and jubilation as if it were their first.

Well now, Faye is special, isn’t she?
One of “That Thing You Do’s” greatest strengths is the subtlety of its romantic subplot. Throughout the movie, Faye is with Jimmy, the super-serious songwriter and driven genius (“If Jimmy’s a genius, I’m U Thant.”) of the group. As the movie progresses, we see and more just how much Faye and Jimmy are growing apart, and just how much of a jerk Jimmy is. As their relationship is disintegrating, the audience, as well as band manager Mr. White (“And what about Guy? Does anybody at home think he’s amazing?”), begins to then see what a perfect match Faye and nice-guy drummer Guy are! But this realization just barely lingers in the back of the mind of the viewer- we are far too concerned with the fate of the band to give it too much thought- and we don’t spend a lot of time yearning for Faye and Guy to finally get together—until it happens. Now a lesser movie would then have the Faye/Guy love story hijack the movie, but Tom Hanks knows where his story is, and he sticks with the band.
You fellas look great in gold. Have I told you that yet?
Hanks is, unsurprisingly, a terrific director. His care for the characters and the overall story are evident from the very first scenes in the opening credits, and he shows some masterful skill behind the camera. I am by no means any sort of expert, but take a look at a few of what I believe are some well-crafted and interesting shots.
Mr. White has his first interaction with the band in their dressing room, seen conversing with them in the mirror between Jimmy and the Bass Player. Just after this shot Mr. White steps seemlessly into the frame with the band members.
At the Hollywood Television Showcase, we see the Wonders at the top of their game, and Hanks features them in a colorful, surreal- almost cartoonish- stage setting. This is the the climax of the band's success, and Hanks celebrates this with a color pallette unlike anything in the rest of the movie.

I love the way this shot is framed, particularly coupled with the fact that Guy has just been abandoned by everyone. He is alone left in this dreary studio that should be the most exciting place he's ever been, instead transforming into a stark and lonely expanse of space.

Good news fellas- you get to keep your wardrobe!
"That Thing You Do" doesn't just have a stellar cast, it also features some very solid and clever cameos. Hanks' old "Bosom Buddies" co-star Peter Scolari plays Troy Chesterfield, host of the Hollywood Television Showcase. You might also recognize Anita in the "Weekend at Party Pier" film as Tracy Reiner, aka Betty Spaghetti in "A League of Their Own." Finally, eagle-eyed movie buffs will recognize sandwich-scarfing Playtone CEO Sol Silar as doomed Las Vegas syndicate boss Moe Green in "The Godfather" (When my movie club watched this on Sunday I was absolutely itching to look him up on IMDb to confirm my suspisions!). Of course, the movie also features Chris Isaak as Uncle Bob, Hanks' wife Rita Wilson as cocktail waitress Marguerite, and even Hank's son Colin as the usher that escorts Faye into the Hollywood Television Showcase.
See you, guys! Hold my calls!
What else can be said? So much more, and yet-- nothing at all. I simply can't convey what this movie means to me, and just how much I love it. As (hopefully) evidenced by the titles of my paragraphs and the random quotations sprinkled throughout, you can see how clever the dialogue in this film is, and how easy and fun it is to repeat back. In any and every situation. Seriously, I still have quotes I want to include ("Know what that is?" "Presidential flash cards?"), but you've got to stop somewhere, right?

This movie is just...amazing. I love the Wonders. I love Mr. White, and Faye, and the Fan, and Lamar. I love the music, the pacing, the jokes, the references, and the fact that the bass player never has no name. I love "Weekend at Party Pier" and the montages and the setting and the epilogue.
And I know everybody loves a nice guy, but I really really. Love Guy.
Any questions, don't ask. I'm tired of talking to you, and I want to sleep.


hootenannie said...

The best movie ever. It is my top movie of all time. I love that we both "get it."

I want to be Faye. Because then, Guy would say, "Good Lord, Faye, you look gorgeous." Swoon.

Valerie said...


And you can't forget the all important: "When was the last time you were decently kissed? I mean truly, truly good and kissed."


Sally said...

Funny thing. I read hootenannie's blog too, but I don't know either of you. I know a girl that knows someone that knows Annie. But also funny is that I found your blog completely randomly through a google reader suggestion. Funny eh? Anyway, all this to say I think your blog is really funny and the line about them being the oneders is pretty much the funniest line of all time. I'm so glad that you're posting about all this. It is awesome.

Holly Edwards said...

The soundtrack was one of the first cds I ever bought too! And now you're making me want to go dig it out and listen to it. Great movie. :)

Katie said...

I love Steve Zahn - he is completely, effortlessly hilarious. And yes, the line about the Oh-Need-Ers makes me smile every time. What a great film.

Holly Edwards said...

Oh, and Guy is on that new show, Southland, which makes me want to watch it.

Lauren said...

The soundtrack was one of MY first cds too! This is one of those movies that I literally can't stop watching. I'll finish it and then start it up again. I think one of the funniest moments in cinematic history is when Giovanni Ribisi is hopping over the cement dividers and breaks his arm. Such a great film! Love your blog!

Lauren said...

And by cement barriers, I meant parking meters...