I Wanna Hold Your Hand: The Arc of the Groupies

I’m no expert in film, storytelling, podcasting or anything else for that matter, but I try to at least be a little knowledgeable in the things I love. Knowing my love of film, and after a few chats, my good friend gave me for a Christmas a film making course. Now my past with studying has not been a roaring success, 3 half-finished degrees, totaling about 10 years of University, is a testament to that. Despite not being one to make new year’s resolutions I had declared that 2018 was the year that I would be more creative than I’d ever been! Heck! This podcast/blog/adventure is all as a result of longing to create more of what I love. So at the start of the year, I excitedly signed up for my film making course and I have been devouring any material I have been set for the course, even the additional reading materials. In the past doing such would have been considered too much work and not even worth reading the list of additional material, let alone buying and reading them.

So how does this all relate to a movie about Beatlemania?

In recent weeks my film making course has moved into the realm of story and screenwriting and I’m sort of glad it did because before that I may have viewed I Wanna Hold Your Hand completely differently. If I can be completely honest, this was my first viewing of I the film and my mid-film mind didn’t really know if I was enjoying what I was watching. I kept reminding myself that this was Robert Zemeckis’s first film. Not only that but it’s also film that is now 40 years old!

Earlier I spoke about a film making course I’ve been taking and recently I’ve been reading one of the prescribed texts, Story by Robert McKee. McKee is considered a guru in all things screenwriting and this book in particular focuses on the importance that story has when writing a script/screenplay. I guess when you see a title like Story, that previous sentence is a bit of a “well duh!” statement to make, but it’s true none the less. During the book, is quite dense, McKee speaks on the importance of a character’s journey to a story. Again this is a “duh!” statement but something that is forgotten or removed completely from a lot of modern films.

Something I love about cinema is how time, and more importantly time to think, can completely change your perspective of what you had watched. I guess in reality the same can be said for any form of art or media. Jeff Buckley’s album Grace is considered one of the great albums recorded and I remember being really underwhelmed by it upon my first one or two listens. I didn’t listen to Grace for a few months but after a while I couldn’t stop thinking about Buckley’s voice. This lead me to give Grace another chance and by the time I got to Lover, You Should’ve Come Over I was hooked. Even more important in all of this is that Grace is now one of my all-time favourite albums.

I’m not sure if I Wanna Hold Your Hand is going to take the Jeff Buckley road and become one of my all-time favourite films, but 24 hours after watching the film my perspective had begun to shift. I kept thinking about the film, in particular that of the journey of Pam, played by Nancy Allen. When we first are introduced to Pam, she is the innocent one of the group. While her friends are consumed by the idea of seeing The Beatles (each with their own motives), her greatest concern is that it’s the night before her wedding and she just wants to spend some time with her friends. The idea of a road trip to see The Beatles doesn’t appeal to her at all because it’s not the sort of wholesome activity she wants to spend her last night as a single lady doing. What exactly she wishes to do, isn’t really mentioned, but you get the sense she just wants to have a quiet one in.

Getting back to Robert McKee and the principles of story. Actually let’s go even simpler and just talk basic story structure. The general premise of any story arc is that a series of acts are required to complete a story arc. These acts move from an introduction to a number of events that all pave the way through to a climax that then brings everything (hopefully) to a satisfying close.

When you begin to break down I Wanna Hold Your Hand, the basic story arc follows this path. The girls embark on a road trip to New York, they get separated from one another and a series of events take place around New York which culminate with them all getting to watch The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show. But what Robert Zemeckis and his writing partner, Bob Gale, really nail in it all is the individual character arcs within the story. Thinking on them more, some of them take pretty dark turns for a comedy about Beatlemania and this brings me back to Pam.   

By gaining a better understanding of story and character arcs we can see how the road trip itself is a fitting metaphor for Pam. At first she is an unwilling passenger in it all, just being along for the ride in order to spend time with her friends, while ultimately wishing she was back home. But the adventure that begins when they arrive to the hotel begins a change in her. The screaming crowd of fans at the hotel, the group’s deception in order to get past security, and being chased through the floors of the hotel by security, they’re all exciting! They’re all things Pam would never do back at home and the excitement is something she more than likely has never experienced. The journey from the record store in New Jersey all the way to the moment where Pam finds herself alone in The Beatles hotel room is both a literal and figurative trip. You see, for Pam, the road trip is crucial in getting her to a place of growth and this all goes down in the hotel room.

Finding herself amongst The Beatles possessions and musical instruments, Pam is overcome by the magnetism they exude. She completely loses all the inhibitions she previously showed in the film and that innocent girl is replaced by a young woman consumed by desire. Unable to control herself Pam begins to kiss and lick any object that looks like the band members might have touched. She even going as far as licking Paul’s bass before collapsing into a heap on the floor with the guitar between her legs. This uninhibited display of passion in the hotel room is the commencement of Pam’s awakening that all culminates in the climax (both figuratively and literally) of her character arc during The Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan show. Pam’s sexual awakening is now complete and at the end of the film when she dumps her fiancé we see that her character arc is complete with Pam now a strong independent woman.

Nancy Allen has top billing on the posters for I Wanna Hold Your Hand but I wouldn’t necessarily say that Pam is the lead character. Actually when you start to look at each character they have their own journey each as equally intriguing as Pam’s. I could write another article on Grace’s drive to get a picture of The Beatles and the lengths it leads her to almost take in pursuit of her dreams of being a professional photographer. Or Rosie’s journey from believing she will one day marry a member of The Beatles only to find love in fellow Beatlemaniac, Richard/Ringo. Or Tony’s story from bully with no cares to wannabe activist, all to impress a girl.

It’s a film with layers and I feel as though to really do it justice I need to watch it again. When you look at it that way, for a first time film it’s really well written and constructed. And when I think even further on that a well written and constructed film is one of those things that I flat out love about Robert Zemeckis’s films. It may not be as present here as it is on some of his later films but it’s there and I love that on this journey we are going to watch it grow and evolve along the way.

Big Love, yeah!