I was never really sure what Robert Zemeckis intended with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Was he showing us the sheer mania that erupted with the arrival of the Beatles, or is he purposely exaggerating the mania of the arrival of the Beatles? That sense of confused tone tends to keep “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” from turning in to a great nostalgia time capsule comedy (Ironically the great nostalgia time capsule comedy would eventually become Zemeckis’ film “Back to the Future”). Instead it’s merely an okay nostalgia time capsule comedy that reaches for the heights of “American Graffiti,” but never quite touches that high bar.
It’s 1964, the height of Beatle-mania, and four Jersey girls and rabid Beatles fans have concocted a plan to go on the road and catch the Beatles on their first live performance at “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Along the way they experience their own individual obstacles, and come to age all the while embracing their love for The Fab Four. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is scored with primarily nothing but Beatles tunes, and if there was ever an attempted love letter to the group, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” aspires for that by painting such a humongous picture of the mania that we only ever hear Beatles music playing overhead and in the background. Zemeckis and co. focus on so many characters, and among them some sub-plots work while others fall very flat.
Rosie as played by Wendy Jo Sperber, who is a humongous Beatles fan and is madly in love with Paul McCartney. While tracking him down, she comes across a mad Beatles fanatic (Eddie Deezen) who makes her life a living hell as she tries to call in to the local radio station to win tickets to the Ed Sullivan Show. There’s also Grace, played by Theresa Saldana, who is planning to get a picture of the group to help propel her journalism career. Wendy Jo Sperber manages to steal a lot of the film as the ultimate Beatles fanatic who can’t quite shake Deezen’s character, all the while Saldana’s primary plot takes an interesting twist as she goes from trying to catch the Beatles to falling in to a big scandal. The movie balances so much sub-plots that there are also the flat narratives including Larry, the son of a limousine company manager who they ask for help in getting past the bodyguards.
There’s Tony, a womanizing Jersey kid who wants to go to the show to ruin it for everyone. There’s also Janice who wants to expose the Beatles as frauds, and then suddenly loves them, but also hates them (?), as well as Nancy Allen’s uneven sub-plot. There’s so much dealt with her character from a potentially abusive relationship she’s in to her ability to get turned on whenever she sees the fab four, for some reason. Why is she in the relationship? Why is she loyal to her boyfriend? Why does she get sexually aroused by them? Why does no one else acknowledge it? And why does no one knock Tony on his ass once in the film? In either case, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” embraces its over the top tone, and aims for some genuine human storytelling, both of which never quite mesh in to a coherent or cogent comedy. That said, it’s a pretty okay nostalgia musical comedy for early Robert Zemeckis with some great Beatles music, and some solid slapstick.