Title: I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Release Date: April 21, 1978
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Universal Pictures
Robert Zemeckis’ first feature film is a lot like his later works Back to the Future and Forrest Gump in its focus on the cultural touchstones of the Baby Boom generation. In this case all the action happens on one day in New York City as fans gather to welcome The Beatles for their first performance in America on The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s interesting that the events that took place 13-14 years before the movie was made already feel like “a long time ago.” The movie feels very influenced by American Graffiti with a lot of the madcap antics of 70s comedies like The Blues Brothers or 1941 (a movie that included a lot of the same cast members). The antics don’t really work for me, but the overall themes and character development are actually pretty good.
The story focuses on a group of teenagers who drive into the city from New Jersey. The key characters are Grace (Theresa Saldana) who wants to take photos of the band, Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber) who is obsessed with Paul, and Pam (Nancy Allen) who reluctantly comes along for the ride even though she’s planning to elope with her boyfriend. Also along for the ride are Larry (Marc McClure), who agrees to drive a limo from his family’s funeral home because he has a crush on grace, Janis (Susan Kendall Newman), a folk music fan who plans to protest the Beatles, and Tony (Bobby Di Cicco) who also hates the Beatles and unfortunately expresses this through homophobic and xenophobic comments. In the city, Rosie befriends Richard (Eddie Deezen), a nerdy teen who obsessively collects Beatles paraphernalia, while Janis teams up with Peter (Christian Juttner), a younger boy whose father will give him tickets to the performance but only if he gets a haircut. Iconic NYC radio disc jockey Murray the K appears as himself and his narration provides a thread among the stories (much like Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti).
The movie is hit or miss, but I think the whole is better than the sum of its parts. The scene where Pam basically has a sexual awakening by being along in the Beatles’ hotel suite is well done, and the scene where Peter is forced into a barber’s chair is truly frightening. There’s a lot of slapstick involving cops getting injured as they fail to catch determined teenagers. The soundtrack is entirely made up of Beatles songs of the period which must’ve been expensive to license. There’s also archival footage of the Beatles and body doubles who are never seen in full and have atrociously bad accents. I was surprised to learn that none of this movie was filmed on location because it really does capture the feel of New York City.