Astonishingly, this is the first UK DVD release for Robert Zemeckis’ debut feature – which includes a first Executive Producer credit for a young Steven Spielberg. The two men would work together again the following year, with Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale providing the screenplay for Spielberg’s first flop 1941, an ostensibly similar film. But in terms of its tone and trajectory, I Wanna Hold Your Hand perhaps has more in common with George Lucas’ early picture American Graffiti.
It is the eve of The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, and four girls in New Jersey each have different reasons for wanting to drive to New York – or not! – and for tracking the group down at their hotel. Rosie (Sperber) is in love with Paul, while Grace (Saldana) is a budding journalist and wants to get some surreptitious photos of the band. Meanwhile Pam (Allen) is due to elope with her fiancé and is against the whole idea, whereas Joan Baez fan Janis (Newman, whose father Paul is name-checked in one of the movie’s many in-jokes) thinks The Beatles are “fakes” and goes along only in order to protest their appearance. Grace suggests recruiting Larry (Superman: The Movie’s Marc McClure) as driver for the trip, as his father is an undertaker and he has access to limousines – a vehicle they hope will gain them admission to the hotel – and along the way they pick up greaser Tony (DiCicco), who couldn’t care less about the British band.
Only the first quarter of the film comprises the all-night road trip (an accidental detour to Philadelphia not included!), and with just a short sequence at the conclusion taking place in the TV studios, the majority of I Wanna Hold Your Hand encompasses the various adventures the six individuals get involved in, in and around the hotel where The Beatles are staying. As such it’s very much like both Spielberg’s post-Pearl Harbor comedy and Lucas’ coming of age film, cutting back and forth between the characters’ storylines as it saunters towards a final act that rewards them for having put them through assorted trials.
It’s a tremendously good-natured film, with an ending that’s pure fantasy but richly deserved, and very easy on both the eyes and the ears. The characterisation is vibrant and unassumingly exaggerated, and the performances naturally ostentatious in a way that feels attractively colourful rather than unnecessarily artificial. It’s an easy leap to see Zemeckis’ assured and unfussy direction, cast management, and confident control of crowds and period detail, leading to the Back to the Future trilogy and Forrest Gump. Brimming with life and guileless enthusiasm, I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a joy whether you’re a Beatles fan or not.
Special Features: gallery / commentary with Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale
I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: ROBERT ZEMECKIS / SCREENPLAY: ROBERT ZEMECKIS, BOB GALE / STARRING: NANCY ALLEN, BOBBY DiCICCO, MARC McCLURE, SUSAN KENDALL NEWMAN, THERESA SALDANA, WENDIE JO SPERBER / RELEASE DATE: 25TH APRIL