In his not-so-prolific career as a producer, director, and writer, Tom Hanks has frequently immersed himself in the can-do culture of the late '50s and early '60s, both celebrating its spirit and darting through its cool shadows. In That Thing You Do!, Hanks' sole feature film as a writer-director, every affectionate reference to the feel-good pop-music industry comes counterbalanced by the faded chanteuses and low-rent showmen who populate the movie's background. Set in the heady months just after The Beatles invaded, That Thing You Do! follows the fictional Pennsylvania garage band The Wonders as they transition from gigging at pizza parlors to appearing on national television. Hanks follows the band from one giddy high to the next, all while sowing the seeds of their demise.
We see the band think up a name (initially, they're the hard-to-pronounce "Oneders"), win a battle of the bands, cut a single, get signed by Play-Tone Records, tour state fairs, climb the charts, do a cameo in a movie, get to a real recording session, and disband. The whole process takes about two months.
Along the way, the music jumps—the title song is one of the few invented-for-a-movie retro-pop songs that both gets its chosen era right and never gets tiring—and the movie's pace stays zippy. That Thing You Do! is just one level removed from deep, but Hanks helms the story well, ably aided by a fresh, appealing young cast, anchored by Hanks look-alike Tom Everett Scott and resident wiseacre Steve Zahn.
It's telling, though, that when The Wonders make their big TV debut on The Hollywood Television Showcase, they're preceded by doomed astronaut Gus Grissom, soon to flame out in a tragic launch-pad accident. That Thing You Do! sometimes gets too tangential, and the movie risks bottoming out when it gets wrapped up in Scott's awkward fascination with an old jazz legend. And yet, the "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" plot arc proves poignant, because it's ultimately a failure story wrapped inside a success story. Infectious enthusiasm carries this study of the happy accidents that make rock 'n' roll, even while it shows how accidents leave bruises.
Key features: A second disc of none-too-revelatory featurettes, and an optional extended cut that adds more than 30 useless minutes, largely dedicated to relating the full story of Scott's slow break with girlfriend Charlize Theron.