That Thing You Do!

That Thing You Do! ★★★½

I hope you like the titular song because the film sure does. Not ten minutes pass without another go at it, in whole or in part, throughout the entire two hour length of the film. Luckily for me, I really liked it. It sounds like a "modern" (in 96) band covering a song from the late fifties, but whatever, I like both of those sounds and I like the catchy, upbeat number that is the backbone of the movie. Other things to like include most of the actors involved (even the perpetually bored Liv Tyler shows some vivaciousness and tenacity here) and the kind of shambolic plot progression, which hits all the notes you expect in a rise to fame kind of story but never feels entirely perfunctory thanks to Hanks's twists on old tricks (see the band members run around a playground map of the US during a travel montage as a prime example). Hanks is fine behind the camera but his true talent lies in front of it. How good is that guy. Upon his introduction about a third of the way into the film, the quality of the whole production just seems to bump up a notch. Though he doesn't sing at all (nor do any of the other actors, really), he's the one that keeps this picture moving and grooving as the manager who cares about the band's success, but not so much that it feels disingenuous.

The problem, then, is the almost complete lack of stakes for the majority of the film. Yay, they're a band on the rise! Yay, they're basically The Beatles. So what. We know what happened to them and the film delivers on that promise, it just doesn't build to the breakup all that well. A line tossed into a scene here and there does not drama make. This might have all been forgivable were that drama not compelling. But it so is. This guy is a jerk, that guy is nice, she's stuck with the one but should be with the other, all while creative differences drive the band apart. It's not original at all, but it is compelling. Why, then, did Hanks not highlight those tensions earlier? It's confusing and can't help but feel like a missed opportunity.