Friday, September 24, 2010

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #14: That Thing You Do! (1996)

The usual caveat: Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old (for example: I decided maybe I should watch Saving Private Ryan in Winter 2008). Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a near weekly feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.
There was a time when EVERYBODY wanted to watch this movie like ALL THE TIME.  That time was middle school.  Specifically, that time was middle school sleepovers.  I believe now that the reason this movie made the rounds so heavily at age 12 or so was because it was rated PG and not a Disney movie.  That made it both "potentially cool"  and "appropriate for everyone",  including that kid with the mom who seriously believed that putting off  PG-13 baptism until the literal age of 13 would somehow make their child a better person.  Note to parents who think like this: you are damn fools.  Honestly. Your child has already seen/heard it all and that kid they talk about hating so much isn't beating folks up for their lunch money, but probably offering oral sex under the jungle gym.  True fact.  Sad?  Yeah, sure.  Anyhow....somehow, in spite of all of that pushing and prodding, I managed to completely avoid That Thing You Do!  I never saw it.  I hated the theme song.  12-year old me knew enough even then to hate that theme song and to think the movie it came from looked boring.  Granted, in middle school I was anti everything.  This included most sleepovers. I tended to leave early simply to avoid the stupid shit that my peers got up to when they thought they were clever at 3 AM.  I'm looking at you girl I was never friends with yet who was always inexplicably invited to parties I attended.  I didn't like that girl either. Other things I hated?  The song "Torn". Cheerleaders. Dressing like a normal person.  Trying to fit in.  Other people.  Hanson.  Yes, I was like that.  I'm still like that, really, except that once I got past my fear of the sudden appearance of my own boobs and embraced the fact that I actually am quite interested in clothing, I learned to dress like a normal person.  I also learned not to hate sleepovers.  I still hate the theme song "That Thing You Do!".  Not the point. 

The point is, I just recently got around to watching That Thing You Do! and, after Monster, I was ready for something light.  I was like oh!  That Thing You Do! That's probably pretty light, right?  Was That Thing You Do! light?  You know it was.  It even ends in an exclamation point.  Other things it was: pointless, irritating, hackneyed, and bland.  Was 12-year old me right?  Yes.  Actually.  I sincerely did not like That Thing You Do!.  It was pretty much the most formulaic depiction of the 60's pop scene around and, not only that, it ended with a serious fizzle.  No bang.  That thing that you do best must be fizzling out because it certainly isn't rocking, it certainly isn't funny, and it certainly isn't interesting. 

So, basically, that thing that I do (you see what I did there?) is hate on this movie. Why?  Because if I wanted to watch a movie about a likable 60's boy band skyrocketing to the top of the pops, I would watch Hard Day's Night.  Of course, there's a huge difference on about a dozen plateaud levels, but I think we can all agree that when Tom Hanks wrote and directed his 1996 bright piece of pop detritus, he was totally trying to work with an American Dream version of The Beatles.  If The Beatles had no artistic vision and bombed completely, of course.  The part he missed (aside from the quality of the music involved (seriously, that song is annoying as hot damn)), was that John, Paul, George, and Ringo had real personality and charisma.  They were cheeky young ones.  These guys? The One-Ders/Wonders?  Steve Zahn?  Lame. Totally lame.  Sirs, you are no young John Lennon.  I say this, of course, as someone who has frequently opined that Josie and the Pussycats is one of the most underrated comedic satires of the last decade (I would say "Josie and the Pussycats is the best movie ever", but since most of you probably ignored it, you wouldn't get the reference), someone who kinda loved The Runaways for its depiction of rock decadence alone, someone who has seen the mixed-up files of Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine too many times,  and someone who thought Bandslam was actually a pretty cute tween movie (with Bowie...wtf?).   Point is: I love rock pics.   If you tell me a movie is about kids starting a band, I'll probably watch it. What's more: I'm likely to find something redeeming about it.  I am a sucker.  This is a fact.     

That Thing You Do!, however, is the exception.  It was just too cloying.  It was like grandma's rock movie.  Like grandma decided to turn off Lawrence Welk and live life on the mild side.  Less rock, less pop, less music industry, more straight-edge Cinderella without the broken glass slipper that leaves her foot bleeding after a night of dancing, or the condom that is the glass slipper of her generation (know what that's from?).  Band writes song, song gets picked up, song is a hit, band becomes a sensation, band breaks up, band dies, boy gets the girl.  All, magically, pretty much without much influence from the sex, drugs, and demons side of the music industry.  Of course, Josie and the Pussycats manages without these demons as well, but they have ebullient bright colors, sparkles, humor, Alan Cumming and camp on their side; That Thing has little outside of sixties beach parties and sunglasses to fuel it.   

Basically, I've concluded that if you're about 10 years old, That Thing You Do! is a good movie because it's an approximation of something for adults.  It feels a little more serious, but its gravity is false.  If you're an adult, you might find it nice or a little entertaining, but mostly empty.  The love story is weak, the tone is tepid, the humor is stale.  You're better off with You've Got Mail.  That's not even a joke.  You've Got Mail is a significantly superior comedy.  Also, it makes you want to buy school supplies.  




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