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That Thing Tom Hanks Did

I caught up to a Stephen Colbert clip of Tom Hanks reprising his role from Big (1988). He wants to be thirty again, nearly thirty years after that film’s release.

Hanks “sold his soul” already…to raise money for That Thing You Do (1996)

As an aside in this negotiation, he shares that he can’t sell his soul to do so…he already did so to raise money for the movie he wrote and directed, That Thing You Do.

Watching this prompted me to re-watch that movie. I watched it at an opportune time for its message in my life, two years after I had moved to Los Angeles from Pittsburgh. Movies that hit a personal note are hard to rate.

In an distinguished acting career, That Thing You Do was surely Hanks’ most personal movie. The personal signs are manifold, starting with him as the writer. The movie borders at points on roman-a-clef: Hanks started acting professionally in Cleveland theater (down the lake from the movie’s opening scenes in Erie.) Hanks’ production company was named after the fictional record label in the movie, Play-Tone. His wife has a bit part – unfruitfully falling for his doppelganger. His children have (blink if you miss it) cameos.  

That Thing You Do is about the serendipitous arc for a garage band that wins a talent competition, gets a gig at a pizza parlor…and before you know it is on national TV with a hit. A tincture of loss pervades — at the expense of an accidentally injured drummer. His role is filled by the proxy-for-hanks, Tom Everitt Scott, playing Guy Patterson, son of a consumer electronics store owner. Will Tom embrace his artistic destiny?

TTYD is not just about the artistic path, or (deftly as background) the cultural changes rumbling through the 1960s, but the evanescence of any group of friends from young adulthood. That, more than any other accomplishment of the movie, gives it its staying power. We have both time for the inevitable losses as well as the moments of great joy. I’m not sure I’ve bought any other scene of characters viscerally feeling the joy of youth than this from That Thing You Do, the first play of their song on the radio.

The technical achievement of the soundtrack is superb. Not merely the namesake track – we’re going to hear it many times, it better be snappy – but an entire catalog of faux sixties tunes that would have been ruined by pulling anything from real life.  

The power of the film, like a scientific theory, is in part its ability to make a prediction. The post-mortem has all the characters, save for the pretensious one, leaving Los Angeles. I guffawed at this at the time as trite – Hanks himself of course stayed, is there a message there? But in short order I too left LA.

This is a movie full of innocence and the grinding down its bearers hold. The extended edition which I ordered in hopes of hearing a director’s or actors commentary did not have one, but it did have cut scenes, which I’ll list below.


Changes in the extended edition:

  1. Further background on the relationship between Guy Patterson and Tina, the first role Charlize Theron was cast in.
  2. She is introduced in a scene that is an homage to American Graffiti — a beautiful blonde cruising the streets; but neatly flipped – she has been jilted for a date but forgives the man she is on course to marry. This is the Siren of a life in Erie. She is turned on hearing him say “I am Spartacus” back at his apartment. Do we need to have seen that the line worked on her before when on to a more reliable and handsome dentist she hangs up the phone on him indifferent to it? More of a Tina storyline and you’re in novel not cinematic territory. Her suggestion that he should move and rename his father’s store also plays in a small deleted scene, where Guy’s sister is given unneeded lines among which is “Telemart is killing us.” We know that already.
  3. Guy meeting the rest of the Wonders at breakfast, we’re told Guy has scratched Fay’s car – it is her sisters but she lets him off and he offers to buy breakfast. This only illuminates the still kept line, “Thanks for breakfast” but is also a good drop. Joining the band, we are seeing more of the inter-group dynamics and early questioning by Guy of the tempo of the song.
  4. Another practice scene before their first paid gig needed another take or two; it had an attempt to show early flirtation of Guy and Fay, and more of the artistic (pre)tensions of Jimmy. 
  5. Disruption after Villipiano’s as a fire extinguisher goes off and over the Riot the band members besides Jimmy play a 60s beat while Jimmy saves the records. Aftermath reading of it in the electronics store. The camera pans up the newspaper that mentions civil rights (alongside the ad for Telemart) and Villipiano went to high school with Guy’s mom. The scene in the store hits on family mockery of Guy’s ambitions and would have been nice to keep. 
  6. Quick scene of Tina at the dentist – unnecessary.
  7. Wonders perseverating that the song hasn’t been played yet. A fear the manager contract was a mistake. Guy gives the transitor radios to everyone to try to hear the song – which explains Faye and the bassist having them on; Chad the old drummer swings by, a tough moment for the movie’s most beleaguered character.
  8. Phil the manager builds on the radio feature announcing going to Pittsburgh, Guy has his Luke-on-Tatooine moment…a different transition to Pittsburgh as the Wonders go there. We see POV of Guy, the the whole group, looking out at the theater in anticipation which turns excited. They review names signed on a dressing room bathroom; it turns out it was Boss Vic’s room. He treats them poorly; this would have been a good scene to keep, anticipating meeting the head of Play-Tone. Brief flirtation between Guy & Boss’ secretary, then the best exchange between Faye and Guy as they walk through the theater bringing food back to the band. 
  9. Guy tries to reach Tina who is playing golf with her dentist.
  10. Base player is caught inflagrante with a Chantrelline in Wonders-racing-up-the-chart montage! This is a huge cut.
  11. Chad brief exchange with Guy’s dad not just pulling away help wanted sign. The swap of fates is complete. It’s what Guy’s dad “wants” — the obedient son/salesman.
  12. Both Mr. White and Guy care more about Faye who is getting sick than Jimmy – the latter calling out wishes for her recovery while she’s sick and they’re at the jazz station but she’s asleep. 
  13. Margeurite (Rita Hanks, the waitress) drives Guy back to hotel. Exchange of glances with real life husband. Howie Long is in a cameo waiting for Mr. White.
  14. Guy after meeting Del Paxton calls the Jazz DJ who encourages him to record an interview and will give him a (low-paying) job. 
An outtake of Charlize Theron in That Thing You Do
Cutting Theron had to be hard, but it was necessary.

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