I Wanna Hold Your Hand

      Comments Off on I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Even with his first feature I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), director Robert Zemeckis is taking popular history and repackaging it as something intimate and personal. This process was reductive in Forest Gump (1994) but in I Wanna Hold Your Hand it proves expansive. The story of Beatlemania is a narrative built around The Beatles and privileges their experiences. But I Wanna Hold Your Hand takes back that experiences and returns it to the hordes of screeching fans, even if those fans are the work of fiction.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand takes place entirely on the day of The Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. In structure, I Wanna Hold Your Hand is indebted to American Graffiti (1973). But where the teens of Southern California were grappling with life after high school, the kids of I Wanna Hold Your Hand must grapple with life after The Beatles arrive.

The arrival of The Beatles sparked self-discovery, sexual awakening, and political upheaval for the youngsters in I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Each teen being emblematic of some facet of the larger shift in the American youth cultural landscape. I Wanna Hold Your Hand looks back to that one night and reveals the awesome changes that began almost instantaneously with the arrival of The Beatles.

Zemeckis plays these revelations and the journey to them primarily for laughs. But under the jokes and all the absurdity of Beatlemania it is suggested that there is some human frailty. Each character, in the hours before the Ed Sullivan Show, undergoes a drastic change. These changes are meant to humanize the historic events and invite the viewer to relive youth and history simultaneously.

Where Zemeckis’ approach falters is the degree to which dramatic moments are undermined by humor. The histrionic performances are often too broad to support the more nuanced emotional subtext. With the exception of Nancy Allen’s plot thread, the characters are kept at a distance by the over the top performances. Where American Graffiti stops of slows down for reflection, Zemeckis simply charges ahead from one beat to the next.

As a whole I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a compromised version of itself where the best parts are suggested rather than realized. Like in Back To The Future and Forest Gump, Zemeckis can’t help himself but to color history as pure sentimental nostalgia as if he fears the human component of our collective cultural heritage.