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I Wanna Hold Your Hand
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by Chris Parry

"The film that started Zemeckis on his rise to fame. Coo coo kachoo."
3 stars

Robert Zemeckis has come a long way, though there's often been question (at least in my mind) as to whether or not that distance has been on an upward or downward shift. Back in 1978, he and long-time screenwriting partner Bob Gale ended a quiet four years since their first real Hollywood gig (writing an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker) when Steven Spielberg decided to champion a screenplay they'd written about a group of girls struck with Beatlemania. It was no small leap of faith for Spielberg, despite his own rise to fame at the same time, being as I Wanna Hold Your Hand would require a few million bucks (no small amount back in 1978) to shoot, with a large part of that going just to licensing the music needed. To get the film made, considering it was essentially designed to be a producer's nightmare, was a task worthy of praise in itself. But as for the movie.... well.... feh.

Rosie (eternal Zemeckis cohort Wendie Jo Sperber) is a total Beatles freak. That's understandable, I guess, since the year is 1964, the band is making their first ever appearance in the USA, and said appearance will go down not too far from the Jersey suburbs that Rosie calls home. Five of her friends also have varying degrees of interest in the Fab Four, ranging from the obsessive Grace (Theresa Saldana) to the non-plussed bride-to-be Pam (Nancy Allen), to Larry, the nerdy designated driver who only wants to help Grace in her mission. Beatles hater Janis (Susan Kendall Newman, who never appeared in another film after this one) is along for the ride, looking to make a media splash, and tough guy Tony Smerko (Bobby Di Cicco) rounds out the gang.

The plan they have in mind is to rent a limo and drive it right up to the Beates hotel, in front of hundreds of screaming fans, and simply walk in like they belong there. But since they each have different goals for the trip, they invariably split up, dodge cops, take pratfalls and get exactly the opposite of what they were looking for. Rosie finds a nerdy male version of her obsessed self, Grace finds her nerdy driver is quite the gallant gent, folksy Janis begins to see appeal in her antithesis Smerko, and the blushing bride... well, she just wants to get home and get married before everything goes to hell.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand isn't a great movie, and in fact there are several times it gets into forehead slapping territory. The slapstick is a little heavy and the doors and bedrooms chases scenes between the kids and the cops lose any semblance with reality very early on. But what it does have, and has in abundance, is original Beatles music. Granted, that's no big deal for someone who, like me, doesn't think so much of The Beatles, but it is most definitely the one thing that keeps the film from feeling too amateur hour.

The flick did modest business in '78, earning back half the money that was spent on it, but Spielberg obviously felt that was a decent result for a first time out and kept supporting Zemeckis and Crane until they took off with the Back to the Future series. A recent DVD release has brought renewed interest in the film (hence this review), and it has also seen the film remastered so that it looks liek it was shot yesterday.

In fact, I had no idea I was watching a 1978 film until I began started doing my research for this review. Though the film does feel like a TV movie, it feels like a good one, even by today's standards. The action is tight, the period production design flawless, and though the acting is weak as water, the overall result is the kind of feel-good comedy romp that you really can't take too many serious 'production issue' shots at.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't really like the bulk of Zemeckis' work. Contact was awful, 1941 horrific, Romancing The Stone overrated, and the technical wizardry of films like Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump and Roger Rabbitt always outweighed the work of the director, in my humble opinion. In more modern times, I could have done without the trailer-spoilers of Castaway and What lies Beneath, but I guess both films were competent enough... what I guess I'm trying to say is that, for all its faults, I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a pretty good piece of filmmaking for a first timer. Just a pity Zemeckis has forgotten much of what that film experience should have taught him.

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originally posted: 11/02/04 20:53:36
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User Comments

5/18/11 Jim Love this movieó been waiting 33 years to see it again. 5 stars
6/22/07 John Aster Habig Zemeckis never disappoints- one of the few awesome rock movies 5 stars
5/13/06 Marty Boy, this reviewer above is a pretentious ass. 4 stars
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  02-Apr-1978 (PG)
  DVD: 28-Sep-2004



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