In 1964, in Erie, Pennsylvania, aspiring jazz drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) is asked by Jimmy Mattingly (Johnathon Schaech) and Lenny Haise (Steve Zahn) to sit in with their band at an annual talent show, after their regular drummer breaks his arm trying to jump over a parking meter. The band, which also includes bassist T.B. Player (Ethan Embry), adopts the name "The Oneders" (pronounced "wonders", but often mispronounced "oh-NEE-ders"). At the talent show, Guy launches into a faster tempo than intended for Jimmy's ballad, "That Thing You Do", and the band wins the competition. The Oneders' performance at the talent show earns them a paying gig at a local restaurant, where they begin to sell recordings of "That Thing You Do" and are noticed by talent promoter Phil Horace (Chris Ellis), whom they hire as their manager.
Horace achieves radio airplay for the song and books the band at a rock & roll showcase concert in Pittsburgh, after which they are offered a contract by Play-Tone Records A&R representative Mr. White (Hanks). White changes the band's name to "The Wonders" as they join a Midwestern Play-Tone tour, taking along Jimmy's girlfriend, Faye (Liv Tyler), as their official "costume mistress". During the tour, "That Thing You Do" garners national radio airplay and becomes a bona-fide hit. As the band's popularity soars, Jimmy grows frustrated that the group is not focused on creating more music, while the remainder of the band enjoys their time in the spotlight. All the while, Guy and Faye grow closer as friends. When the song enters the top ten on the Billboard charts, the band is taken off the tour and sent to Los Angeles.
Faye falls ill on the trip and is nursed by Guy. Jimmy is seemingly uninterested in her well-being, being preoccupied with trying to convince White to let the band record more of his original songs. After a publicity tour, the band is set to appear on The Hollywood Television Showcase, a nationally televised live variety show. They begin to show signs of discord. Jimmy continues to vent frustration at White over the band's direction. T.B. (who was leaving to join the United States Marine Corps in a few weeks) goes to Disneyland with a group of Marines and never returns; he is replaced in the broadcast by a session bassist. During the performance, as the band is being visually introduced to the viewing audience, the caption "Careful girls, he's engaged!" appears under Jimmy's name. Jimmy becomes upset with Faye in the dressing room afterward, and says that he has no intention of marrying her. Heartbroken and weary with his arrogant personality and lack of devotion, Faye terminates their relationship.
The next day at a scheduled recording session, Lenny is missing and Jimmy's grievances with White reach a boiling point and he quits the band. Guy is sorry to see the end of the band. White confronts him, and declares the band a one-hit wonder, but commends Guy for his smarts and integrity. After an impromptu jam session with his idol, jazz pianist Del Paxton (Bill Cobbs), Guy returns to the band's hotel, where he meets Faye and shares a long kiss with her. In an epilogue, it is revealed that Jimmy went back to Play-Tone and forms another band and has a successful career as an artist and producer, Lenny becomes a casino manager, and T.B. earns a Purple Heart for injuries suffered at Khe Sanh. Guy and Faye start a family in Washington, where Guy teaches jazz composition at a music conservatory that he and Faye open.Tom Everett Scott as Guy Patterson
Johnathon Schaech as Jimmy Mattingly
Tom Hanks as Mr. White
Steve Zahn as Lenny Haise
Ethan Embry as T. B. Player
Liv Tyler as Faye Dolan
Charlize Theron as Tina Powers
Bill Cobbs as Del Paxton
Giovanni Ribisi as Chad
Obba Babatundé as Lamarr
Alex Rocco as Sol Siler
Chris Isaak as Uncle Bob
Larry Antonino as Scott "Wolfman" Pell
Holmes Osborne as Mr. Patterson
Robert Torti as Freddy Fredrickson
Kennya Ramsey, Julie Harkness, and Darlene Dillinger as The Chantrellines
Chaille Percival as Diane Dane
Director Jonathan Demme one of the producers of That Thing You Do!, has a cameo as the director of Weekend At Party Pier.
Comedian Barry Sobel, has a cameo as "Goofball" in Weekend at Party Pier.
Tracy Reiner, has a cameo as Anita, the co-star of Weekend at Party Pier.
Musician Chris Isaak appears as Uncle Bob who produces the band's first recording.
Actress Rita Wilson, Hanks' wife, has a small part as Marguerite, the waitress at The Blue Spot jazz club, whose interest in Guy becomes compromised when Guy realizes his jazz idol Del Paxton is in the club.
Tom Hanks' son, Colin, appears as a page at the City of Broadcasting. He can be seen escorting Faye (Liv Tyler) from her car to her seat in the studio audience. His role is slightly expanded in the extended edition DVD.
Elizabeth Hanks, Hanks' daughter with his first wife, appears as "Bored Girl in Dress Shop".
Peter Scolari plays Troy Chesterfield, host of The Hollywood Television Showcase.
Football player/commentator Howie Long appears as Mr. White's driver/partner Lloyd in the extended cut; his part was entirely cut from the theatrical release.
Bryan Cranston appears as astronaut Gus Grissom during The Hollywood Television Showcase scenes.
Clint Howard, the brother of Ron Howard, appears as a KJZZ Disk Jockey.
Kevin Pollak appears as Victor 'Boss Vic Koss' Kosslovich
Gedde Watanabe appears as a Playtone photographer.
Chris Ellis as Phil Horace, the band's first manager.
Marc McClure as the Hollywood Showcase Director.
Production and music
The movie features original music by Tom Hanks, Adam Schlesinger, Rick Elias, Scott Rogness, Mike Piccirillo, Gary Goetzman and Howard Shore. In the movie, The Wonders rise to brief stardom on the strength of "That Thing You Do", a song written as a wistful ballad but which becomes an uptempo rocker during the band's first performance at a talent show. Written and composed for the film by Adam Schlesinger, bassist for Fountains of Wayne and Ivy and released on the film's soundtrack, the song became a genuine hit for The Wonders in 1996 (the song peaked at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100, #22 on the Adult Contemporary charts, #18 on the Adult Top 40, and #24 on the Top 40 Mainstream charts). The track was nominated for a 1996 Golden Globe Award as well as a 1996 Academy Award for Best Original Song. Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers provided the lead vocals for the Wonders.
In the film, the title song is referenced with "All My Only Dreams" as the B-side. The actual 45 RPM single, released to record stores in North America, features "Dance With Me Tonight" as its B-side. The song has since been recorded by The Knack and Bubblegum Lemonade. The Wonders are also seen playing the song "Little Wild One." This was written by the band Gigolo Aunts as a "faux-Beatles"-style tune at the request of their record label to be submitted for consideration for inclusion in the film.
For the purpose of being able to convincingly perform The Wonders' songs on-camera, Scott, Schaech, Zahn and Embry took several weeks of individual lessons, followed by daily practice as a group. Of the four, only Zahn and Embry had any prior experience of playing their assigned instruments. They eventually honed their performance to the point where extras on the set thought they were actually playing the songs, when in reality they were miming along to recordings by professional musicians.
The song that plays during the film's opening credits, "Lovin' You Lots and Lots," is credited to the fictitious Norm Wooster Singers and was actually written by Hanks. This song is a parody of Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller, and other practitioners of the "beautiful music" or proto-Muzak formats that were a staple of adult radio during the early '60s such as on KPOL (AM)1540 in Los Angeles. Hanks also composed Guy's jazzy signature drum solo, "I Am Spartacus."
The ballad "My World Is Over" by Diane Dane seems inspired by the compositions of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and the vocal performance is strongly reminiscent of Jackie DeShannon.
The Wonders' bassist (played by Ethan Embry) is unnamed in the film; his name, T.B. Player (literally, "The Bass Player"), is revealed only in the end credits. This is a joke based on the perception that bass players are often unknown and unappreciated. Embry would later provide his own take on the character's real name: "I just said my name was Tobias, because he’s such a Tobias. You just take the vowels out [and it’s T.B.] His nickname was Toby, but his mom calls him Tobias. And his last name actually was Player, because he was a player, dude! That carousel ride with the Chantrellines? Total player."
Some music was written for the film by Lee Hartney from The Smith Street Band but didn't make the final cut.
The tour and TV appearance are done in the authentic style of rock bands of the mid-1960s, including Go-Go girls, elaborate sharing of microphones, and formal clothing in various matching colors.
The character of fictional Pittsburgh disc jockey "Boss Vic Koss" whose actual last name was "Kosslovich" may be inspired by real-life Pittsburgh radio personality "Mad Mike Metro," who worked at WZUM in the 60s. His actual last name was "Metrovich.
The song "Voyage Around the Moon" by the fictional band Saturn 5 closely resembles "Pipeline" by The Chantays. The scene where The Wonders are miming the instrumental tune "Shrimp Shack" during the filming of a beach party film titled Weekend at Party Pier is an overt reference to the scene in Pajama Party wherein The Nooney Rickett 4 play the instrumental song Beach Ball.
The movie was written at a time when Hanks' was dealing with his own issues with increasing successes in his career. During his appearance on Inside the Actors Studio, Hanks said he told the studio, "I'm a big honkin' star and you have to let me do what I want to do", to which the studio replied, "You're absolutely right."
There were at least two real bands named the Wonders who made the record charts at various radio stations in the early '60s. One had a ballad titled "With These Hands" (b/w "Please Don't Cry"; Bamboo 523) that was played by KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the fall of 1962.
The other Wonders had a regional hit record called "Say There" (b/w "Marilyn"; Colpix 699), released by Colpix Records in August 1963. Little is known about these Wonders, except that they were probably from Ohio or Pennsylvania; "Say There" hit the Top 20 at WCOL in Columbus, Ohio, and made the Top 30 at KQV in Pittsburgh. (There is a scene in the film in which a disc jockey at WCOL is seen playing "That Thing You Do!")
There are numerous references to The Beatles in the storyline:Both bands lost their original bass player and replaced their original drummer.
White is modeled on Brian Epstein and in the extended cut is shown to have a boyfriend (Epstein was gay).
Guy Patterson was modeled on the experience of Jimmie Nicol replacing Ringo Starr for one tour.
The "Careful girls, he's engaged" caption under Mattingly's name is a reference to the "Sorry girls, he's married" caption under John Lennon's name when The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Faye is mistaken for a fan and is prevented by the police from following the band. A similar incident happened to Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon's wife.
The soundtrack album (released under the Play-Tone name in conjunction with Epic Records) was also a hit, peaking at #21 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The CD artwork is a replica of the fictional Play-Tone label used in the movie, and the liner notes are done in a mockumentary style, as if the Wonders had been a real group and the events of the film had actually happened. Hanks later used the success of That Thing You Do! as a spring-board to launch the actual Playtone Records label, through which the soundtracks of all his subsequent films, and other films like Bring It On and television programs like The Sopranos were released as albums.
The film was well received by critics and currently holds a 93% fresh rating at the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 56 reviews with an average rating of 7.2/10. The site's consensus reads, "A light, sweet, and thoroughly entertaining debut for director Tom Hanks, That Thing You Do! makes up in charm what it lacks in complexity". The film debuted at No. 3. It was moderately successful at the box office, grossing $25,857,416 domestically and $8,728,000 abroad for a worldwide gross of $34,585,416.
The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in this list:2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
"That Thing You Do!" – Nominated
That Thing You Do! was first released in mid-1997 on VHS. In 1998, the film became available in the DIVX format (as with all 20th Century Fox films), rather than DVD.
After DIVX failed, the film was released onto DVD on June 5, 2001. It included the featurette "The Making of That Thing You Do!," and two music videos.
On May 8, 2007, Tom Hanks' Extended Edition was released on DVD. The film's theatrical cut and an extended cut with 39 additional minutes of deleted scenes are included.
Many of the deleted scenes are devoted to character development. A tastefully steamy look at Guy's "make-out" session with Tina at his apartment is included. The extended version also goes more in-depth with Guy's developing relationship with Faye (via mild flirting) and his deteriorating relationship with Tina, as well as Tina's budding relationship with her dentist, Dr. Collins. It also suggests that the character portrayed by Tom Hanks (Mr. White) is not only gay but in a relationship with a man played by former NFL defensive lineman Howie Long.
More camera time is also devoted to the romance between the bass player and one of the singers of the Chantrellines. In the theatrical cut, this romance was depicted mainly as an unrequited crush on the part of the bass player; in the extended cut it is clearly shown that his efforts were successful.
At the end of the Extended Edition, rather than becoming a studio drummer on the recommendation of Del Paxton, Guy becomes a disc jockey for the jazz station KJZZ and records a documentary series of interviews with legendary jazz musicians.
That Thing You Do! was packaged with Bachelor Party and The Man with One Red Shoe in the Tom Hanks Triple Feature DVD anthology set. The actual DVD appears to be the original 2001 disc, with the featurette and music videos.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray on April 2, 2013. The Blu-ray includes the Theatrical and Extended cuts as well as all of the bonus features found on the 2-Disc DVD.