Editor's note: Over the next few weeks we'll be exploring some recently released Criterion Collection DVDs in this space.
Robert Zemeckis' 1978 feature debut, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," set in 1964, about six high schoolers from Jersey who go on an impromptu road trip up to New York to try and watch the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show," is nothing if not effervescent.
The six include the Die Hard fan, Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber), madly in love with Paul; the Skeptic, Janis (Susan Kendall Newman), who instead prefers bands that promote social change; the Entrepreneur, Grace (Theresa Saldana), who wants to take pictures of the Fab Four to jumpstart her photography career; the Dupe, Larry (Marc McClure), the driver, haplessly taken with Grace; the Agnostic, Pam (Nancy Allen), who is planning on getting married the next day, and frets about what her fiance might think; and the Chaos Agent, Tony (Bobby Di Cicco), who hates the band, and only goes in order to try and score with Janis.
Along the way, of course, they meet many other madcap characters -- none more memorable, or well-rendered as Richard "Ringo" Klaus (Eddie Deezan), another Beatles' super-fan, whose path crosses with Rosie with spectacularly nerdy results -- all designed to push the farcical plot forward. Each member of the party gets his or her own allotment of plot shenanigans and red herrings, en route to all reuniting, magically, at the Ed Sullivan theater at the appointed time.
It's hardly a masterpiece, but there is a scrappy, inventive sort of energy that becomes infectious. Zemeckis' conceit might feel a bit ponderous at times -- the kids run into each other all across the city, always at the precise moments they most need to -- but the film captures the sense of freedom and excitement when a cultural tidal wave engulfs a nation. There is a sense of unity, even among the doubters, that all the young people crowded into New York over the weekend, are all there for the same purpose, the kind of experience exclusively reserved for the young.
The best scenes involve the reluctant Pam, who, by dint of wanting to avoid trouble at the band's hotel, with all of her friends desperately running from cops and hotel security up and down the floors, inadvertently manages to sneak into the lads' actual hotel room while they're out doing a soundcheck. As she takes in the scene (and enjoys a kind of sensual bliss with Paul's bass), running her fingers over their clothes, drinking sips from their used glasses, and pulling a small clump of hair from one of their hairbrushes, we watch as she moves from demure wife-to-be, to fully embracing her independent sensuality. Nobody escapes unscathed by the end, the crew's run-in with the band leaves each kid with a greater understanding of themselves and their possible, if fleeting, future.
Disc Extras: Along with the new 4K restoration, Criterion has also included commentaries from Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale; interviews with the director, Allen and McClure; a pair of early shorts Zemeckis made before his first feature; and an essay from critic Scott Tobias.
‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ (1978)
Cast: Wendie Jo Sperber, Eddie Deezan, Susan Kendall Newman, Theresa Saldana, Nancy Allen, Marc McClure, Bobby Di Cicco
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Running time: 1 hours, 44 minutes
Reviewed from Criterion Collection DVD