Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – 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.

My Take – A new film from Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Boyhood) is something that deserves to be celebrated.

After all, he continues to remain one of American cinema’s most beloved directors who time and again has delivered some of the most purely enjoyable and laid-back films I can recall watching. And of course for his penchant for creating atmospheric, moody and nostalgic stories that soak up the life and times of the particular era.

While best known for his live-action films, for his latest, writer-director Linklater uses rotoscope animation, a style he previously perfected in Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006), to bring one of the best-narrated films in the Netflix catalog. Basing it on his own childhood fantasies, here, director Linklater offers a heartfelt experience that evokes childhood, dreams, innocence and gives an insight into the daily experiences of American society in the late 60’s where man’s quest to conquer the moon was at the forefront of everyone’s minds and hearts.

Sure, some may find the lack of a hard narrative and the non-linear plot line frustrating, but if you’re a Linklater fan this won’t be a problem as the film is an absolutely joy that deserves to find a big audience.

Narrated by his adult version (Jack Black), the story follows a young Stanley (Milo Coy), in the late 60s, who lives with his parents (Lee Eddy and Bill Wise) and five siblings, Steve (Josh Wiggins), Vicky (Natalie L’Amoreaux), Jana (Jessica Brynn Cohen), Greg (Sam Chipman) and Stephanie (Danielle Guilbot), in Houston, Texas, in the shadow of NASA’s Mission Control where his Dad holds an uncool position.

However his life changes when he is approached at his school playground by two NASA officials, Bostick (Glen Powell) and Kranz (Zachary Levi), who inform Stanley that he has been selected to go on a super-secret test mission to the moon, thanks to his good grades and strong performance on the kickball pitch, before the actual Apollo 11. Hereby beginning his covert mission to become the first astronaut to actually set foot on the moon.

What follows is a 98-minute, highly sentimental, kaleidoscopic examination of 1969, spliced with moments from the greatest fantasy of the teenage boys of the world, i.e. traveling to space. After a brief intro, the film spends a full fifty minutes going through Stan’s day to day life before getting back to his Apollo mission. The majority of the film follows a montage-like format, bouncing from one nostalgia-soaked moment to the next.

Here, director Linklater doesn’t spare any detail of what life was like back then, nor does he worry about boring audiences by delving into the minutiae of it all. As grown-up Stanley bounces confidently between descriptions of the monotonous games the neighborhood kids used to play, breakdowns of the plots of old black-and-white sci-fi shows, the nuances of spending time with grandparents etc.

Known to be someone who has always had a laid back vibe to his films, director Linklater indulges himself in all things 60s with references to Ouija boards, push-button phones, Drive-Ins, after-school TV showings and a soundtrack that is dominated not only by hit singles of the era. References are made to the political and social conflicts of the time and the way in which it’s relayed plays to true to how children experience those kinds of events.

As an audience we are given a sense of growing up during the particular time and place even though it is somewhat of distorted nostalgic view of someone who was really young during those events.

And, once it gets back to the Apollo mission, it’s relatively brief, with the focus quickly turning to his family’s anticipation for the actual Apollo 11 moon landing with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and others.

Sure, with no tangent plot to speak of, this might sound worrisome, however, the tone that gracefully balances wistful nostalgia and slice-of-life drama, never lets the film lag, never quite allowing us to sit in one particular moment.

It also helps that the rotoscope animation is excellent. Here, the mannerisms are more realistic than most animated films, as the rotoscope technique requires that the animator draw over real actors. Simultaneously, the drawings look like they have been appropriated from a vintage science fiction comic, adding to both the swiftness and wistfulness of it all.

Voice performance wise, Jack Black is thankfully not his hyper-self, Glen Powell and Zachary Levi are likable as always, while the remaining broad and relatively unknown voice cast comprising of Josh Wiggins, Lee Eddy, Natalie L’Amoreaux, Jessica Brynn Cohen, Sam Chipman, Danielle Guilbot and Bill Wise are good. Led wistfully by a charming young Milo Coy. On the whole, ‘Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood’ is yet another warm and captivating nostalgic feast from the ever wonderful Richard Linklater.

Directed – 

Starring (voices of) – Zachary Levi, Jack Black, Glen Powell

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 98 minutes

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