Long time, no see! Back with a new #moviemonday breakdown of That Thing You Do! It’s one of the best movies you should have seen, and if you haven’t, the internet exists and you can rectify the situation. You’re welcome in advance. 😉
The movie premiered in 1996 and was written by, directed by, and co-stars Tom Hanks. It follows the rise and fall of a fictional one-hit wonder pop band in the summer of 1964. When you watch it, it’s amazing that Tom Hanks has not written and directed a slew of comedies because it’s a really great movie. On top of that, Hanks wrote a song in the film and the actors are really performing their instruments which they were sent to a musical boot camp to learn. Probably the most difficult thing about a movie like this is that it revolves around the popularity of this one song, so that that song has to be incredibly addictive since they also play it about fifty times throughout the movie. The team that wrote the song pulled this feat of in spades. But let’s get to the breakdown because what seems like a light-hearted comedy actually has a very different character arch at its core…
Protagonist: Guy Patterson
Want: Have a successful band.
Need: He’s a little immature and selfish (though rarely in a way that effects others). He’s talent and loves the craft but he’s a passive participant in his life.
Antagonist: James Mattingly II
Inciting Incident: Drummer Chad breaks his arm and Guy is asked to step in. He plays the song at a faster speed and they win, landing them a regular slot at an Italian restaurant.
First Act Decision: After making a record and a few shows, they win the attention of a manager. Jimmy and Guy are both reluctant to sign but at Lenny’s insistence they all sign, agreeing to make an official go of it as a band.
Progress: The song gets major air play on the radio.
Reversal: They play a big show in Vicksburg and bomb.
Midpoint: They agree to leave their manager and sign with Playtone, represented by Mr. White, taking them on a huge and demanding tour all over the country.
Reversal 2: The tour takes its toll on the band as the bickering kicks in. Guy finds himself alone as he goes out one night and is reminded, by his idol Del Paxton, that not everything good can last.
False Climax: The Wonders are perform on live national television.
Low Point: Faye breaks up with Jimmy after a fight and the next day Lenny misses rehearsals. A cranky Jimmy quits the band and Guy is now in breach of contract, all by himself.
Third Act Decision: Guy jams with Del Paxton and doesn’t want to leave California. Yet again, he is handed another opportunity. He heads back to the hotel where he sits with Faye as they discuss their plans and he’s forced to think about what relationships have mattered to him in the last few months.
Climax: Guys goes after Faye as she leaves and kisses her. They decide to stay a little longer in the hotel, and California, together.
Resolution: Faye and Guy live happily ever after together.
This film has a very simple through line, of a band wanting to be successful. While the first act decision is clear, the ultimate goal is not. How does this band define what success is? You can emotionally feel watching the film that they’ve reached a top milestone in getting to perform live on national television, but this is not mentioned earlier, so while it works as a false climax, writers should know what the tangible goal is before they enter that second act. More and more we’re seeing movies, particularly comedies, where where the goal isn’t stated early on. Like Hanks, you can get away with this but the writer needs to internally know what it is to guide them and to have something to build towards in your second act.
More interesting is the protagonist Guy. He’s a nice guy, and everyman kinda guy. So what’s his arch? Guy is passive and a little immature. This is an incredibly difficult flaw to portray and wind your way out of in the third act of a story. We know that Guy is a immature early on in the film as he harbors his passion for music and is hounded by his father about work. We like him for his passion and because we understand how bored he is, we would be too, but he’s still incredibly passive.
A passive character may be the most difficult to pull off in any story because they need to be making decisions and move the story forward. Guy joins the band because it’s a one-time thing and because Chad’s an idiot that broke his arm. He’s enjoying himself as they play at the restaurant but he’s not pursuing management when the Oneders are approached. Jimmy and Guy are both reluctant to sign but agree only at Lenny’s insistence. Guy is given a few different mentors in the film and for the most part just do what they want. The only time he emphatically makes a statement in the second act is when asked if they want to be on set of a film or on a tour, to which he picks the movie because it’s more fun and another change of pace from the growing monotony of the tour (another small nod to his immaturity, with which the viewer identifies).
Jimmy is debatable a positive antagonist. If a negative antagonist is the most extreme version of the protagonist’s flaw and a positive antagonist is a character that has a quality the protagonist needs to learn, then Jimmy is definitely positive. He’s jarringly serious about music, which is what Guy needs alongside his more immature passion. Every time in the film that Jimmy says he doesn’t want to do something, Guy is challenged to actually consider what he is doing instead of passively jumping from one thing to another.
Finally we have Guy’s relationship with Faye. Every time I watch this movie I’m happy that Faye ended up with a nice and sweet guy, but it always felt somewhat forced to me. It wasn’t until my most recent viewing that I realized why she and Guy click, and also why going after her closes Guy’s arch. Like Guy, Faye is passive. She loves Jimmy and goes wherever he wants, supporting him 100%. No one has ever supported Guy openly. His father is against him joining the tour and his girlfriend Tina ditches him without a second thought, so Faye’s support of Jimmy is always admired by Guy. For Faye though, she never does anything for herself and like Guy just goes wherever the opportunity is being handed to her. Unfortunately, for a woman in the 1960s in a small town there aren’t a lot of opportunities for her which is why she’s headed home after the band breaks up while Guy is taking another job in LA. Guy wants support, Faye wants to see the world and to be that supportive person (to someone who treats her well, she learns).
The reason the short third act works is because it is the first time that Guy goes after something openly. He tells Faye that she deserves better and he wants to be that for her. It’s a very mature decision, even if that maturity may seem hidden behind an overly romantic moment, it’s still a big decision. Watching clips from trailers and photos online, I think there were more moments between the two of them in the movie to establish their chemistry that were left on the cutting room floor. This is the one thing I wish were still in the movie to help establish the potential for this relationship early and also learn a little bit more about Faye’s goals and hopes for her life. Things like this go can be overlooked in comedies though, same as the lack of a tangible goal, because ultimately if the viewer is laughing that’s all that matters.
Do you think that Guy’s character flaw is passive or have different thoughts? Let me know in the comments!