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Let's see here, with two Oscars as Best Actor sitting in his house somewhere, and a nomination for a third listed on his resume, I guess it was time that Tom Hanks took the next step into writer/director mode. If I had time I'd do a search on how many first time writer/director flicks I've seen in the past year, and there have been a lot of 'em, and to do a count on how many were good theater flicks.
Off the top of my head, I'd say that count would be: one.
Tom Hanks has been paying close attention to everything that has gone on around him in his long and varied career, and his first effort, That Thing You Do! is a delightful and delicious debut. Buy a very big bag of popcorn and settle down. TTYD is funny and it is goofy. The setting reflects a period in America in which unbridled optimism could indeed let a band from Erie, Pennsylvania reach the top of the Billboard charts on their first try.
The sound of that band, The Wonders (nees The Oneders -- one of the great running jokes of the first act), is pretty close to that of surf music circa 1963/64 -- three part harmony, pounding bass drum and the full-bodied twang of electric guitars. As The Wonders tour you will hear the title song, or parts thereof, half a dozen or so times. That's taking a big gamble, 'cuz if the song bites the audience is stuck. But it doesn't, and the mix of the song is embellished as each version hits the screen. The audience I sat with laughed wholeheartedly through the first two acts, and was sucked in as Hanks' very funny script took a sweet romantic turn at the end.
You can't forget that Hanks got his start on television (in drag in a sitcom called Bosom Buddies) and it's hard not to see elements of, and resemblance to, the young Hanks and TV partner Peter Scolari in the characters of drummer Guy (Tom Everett Scott) and goofy guitarist Lenny (Steve Zahn). It's appropriate, because TTYD touches on a lot of images and sounds that may be familiar to you from the years you spent growing up, regardless of when those years were.
Hanks appears in a small role as Mr. White, the A&R man who has seen bands come and seen them go. He knows the routine by rote and takes the Wonders into the promotion mill and lets it spit 'em out the other end. Hanks' character is cold, hard, and unlike much of what we've seen over the last several years, but it is only a supporting role. He had enough on his plate this time out.
Yes, there are a lot of images that are lifted right out of old Annette on the Beach or Beatles movies. But they are appropriate, and do not overwhelm the work done by the actors. By the time all is said and done, you may not know the stage names of the members of the band, but you will know the characters. And it all works well.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for That Thing You Do! he would have paid . . .
For the first time in a very long time, Cranky walked out of the theater thinking, "I want to see that again. Now."
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