Hot on the trail of the Beatles, The Wonders are a home-grown American band who are signed up to rival the British legends - they're the perfect tonic for the youth of the US of A. However, their position begins to crumble as their musical and life-style differences begin to become apparent.
Tom Hanks' writer-director debut is a bright and breezy slice of aspirational Americana, a bittersweet comic fable that may not be incredibly original in its subject matter - a group of small town musicians hit the pop big time only to implode at the height of their success - but more than compensates with charm, personality and infectious exuberance.
It's 1964 and America is gripped by Beatlemania. Homegrown musical salvation arrives in the form of The Wonders, a four-piece from Erie, Pennsylvania, whose snappy tune That Thing You Do! is the perfect tonic for US youngsters. Signed up by Play-Tone Records' Mr. White (Hanks), who fits them out in snazzy suits and, in the case of drummer Guy (Scott), sunglasses, The Wonders are a hot commodity. Pretty soon they have a top ten hit, a spot on a nationwide tour and a part in a Hollywood movie. But it's only a matter of time before the inevitable conflicts arise and conspire to split up the group: singer-songwriter Jimmy (Schaech) aspires to be a serious artist; the bass player (Ethan Embry) is waiting to join the marines; and Guy is actually more of a jazz man. Caught up in the moment, The Wonders fail to recognise the precarious nature of their position, but Hanks never allows the underlying cynicism of the material to detract from the entertainment.
In his young actors, he has assembled a first-rate comic ensemble. Newcomer Scott (a dead ringer for a young Hanks) shows star potential as the scene-stealing goofball Guy who ups the tempo of That Thing You Do! during its first public performance and by doing so turns a slushy ballad into a pop phenomenon. Tyler is a delight as Jimmy's faithful girlfriend Faye, while Hanks, as their slick, cajoling manager, is both caustic and a charmer. And the songs (all originals, many co-penned by the director) are infuriatingly catchy (particularly the title ditty). In short, this is a lightweight but utterly loveable affair which proves Hanks is as assured behind the camera as in front of it.
This is a lightweight but utterly loveable affair which proves Hanks is as assured behind the camera as in front of it.