Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood, 2022.
Written and Directed by Richard Linklater.
Featuring the voice talents of Glen Powell, Zachary Levi, Milo Coy, Lee Eddy, Bill Wise, Jack Black, Josh Wiggins, Natalie L’Amoreaux, Jessica Brynn Cohen, Sam Chipman, Danielle Guilbot, Samuel Davis, Nick Stevenson, Brian Villalobos, David DeLao, Holt Boggs, and Avery Joy Davis.
A coming-of-age story set in the suburbs of Houston, Texas in the summer of 1969, centered around the historic Apollo 11 moon landing.
What if NASA approached a 10-year-old boy during the heat of the space race for a secret mission to the moon? That’s more or less the plot concept revered writer and director Richard Linklater employs in Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. This rotoscope animation feature also doubles as a video essay/documentary-style treatise on the filmmaker’s childhood growing up in Houston during these events.
Stuffed with copious narration from an adult version of the film’s protagonist Stan (voiced by Milo Coy as a 10-year-old and Jack Black when reminiscing on the past), Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood quickly shoves aside that exciting opportunity to space. However, it’s not done to catch viewers up to speed on where we are in history, but rather what this point in time was like for a decently sized suburban Texan family living in the late 1960s. If that sounds a bit too specific and personal, well, it is, but that’s not necessarily a drawback considering the rich detail emanating from the storytelling on display and the carefully created animation that evokes a somewhat universal recollection of childhood.
When it comes down to it, hobbies such as sports have been around forever. Children have been tempting fate getting involved in potentially dangerous shenanigans for the longest time. And it’s impossible not to find some relation to that stinking bummer feeling of a fun weekend ending, signaling the start of another school week. Similarly, summer vacation activities such as amusement park trips, a stop for ice cream, firework celebrations, and more speak to an American experience rather than just the 1960s.
It just so happens that Stan is growing up surrounded by the space race while also living within proximity to NASA, only fueling that fascination with America’s determination to put a man on the moon. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood takes viewers down a rabbit hole deep dive into the era’s pop culture and how it was affected by the space race. There’s also the usual laid-back Richard Linklater approach that’s comfortable slowing down to express every character, consisting of the rest of the family and their taste in everything from television to music. It’s also a big family featuring multiple older sisters and brothers that all partially feed into Stan’s growth as a person.
Admittedly, the memory capsule portion of this otherwise tightly packed 95-minute fantastical riff on history rambles on for so long that one might wonder if the story will ever catch up to the tantalizing opening of a boy selected to go into space. And while Richard Linklater successfully achieves that goal of making viewers fondly reminisce on youthful freedom and carefree joy of childhood, he is only interested in going as far as acknowledging aspects such as the accepted parental child abuse of the time or social factors such as lower-income communities perceiving going to the moon is a waste of money and tax dollars. One can’t help but wonder what a balance between romanticism and reality would have yielded.
Around halfway through Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood, Richard Linklater does come back around to space exploration, juxtaposing Stan’s secret mission with his family sucked into coverage of the Apollo 11 mission. The preparation of the adventure for Stan and the aftermath are both charming, pushing forward this freewheeling coming-of-age characterization. For all its self-indulgence, there are more than enough wide-eyed smiles and small, sweeping moments of remembrance beautifully putting into perspective the wonders of being a child.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com