VOD film review: Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
James R | On 02, Apr 2022
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Jack Black, Milo Coy, Bill Wise, Lee Eddy, Natalie L’Amoreaux
Houston, we have a problem. How many people have repeated that line in their own versions of space missions or Hollywood blockbusters? But how many of them have followed that question with a bizarre confession: “We built the lunar module too small.” The solution? NASA gets a 10-and-a-half-year-old boy to take Neil Armstrong’s spot on the 1969 Apollo mission. That’s the starting point for Richard Linklater’s latest, a disarming space race animation that’s part autobiography and part fantasy.
Linklater has always been a filmmaker with a penchant for youth, and his knack for capturing quotidian reality once again brings his childlike sensibilities bursting to life. Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood plays out with the same minute details that made Boyhood such a beautifully observed tapestry of American suburbia, to the point where it’s a surprise to discover just how grounded it is: after an opening voyage into the mind of young Stan (Milo Coy), we then spend most of the film’s runtime exploring his day-to-day life on South Texan style.
It’s a gorgeously vivid life, from his stern father (Bill Wise) and wry mother (Lee Eddy) to his hippie sister (Natalie L’Amoreaux) – who he notices has a thing for any pop band with cute boys in it – and his colourful constellation of older siblings. Their family squabbles and routines mesh indistinguishably with the pop culture of the time, with nods towards films such as Destination Moon and copious news and other TV clips in the background. We see people handling baseball cards, vinyl records and more, hear school assemblies in which song lyrics are swapped for ruder alternatives and get a visual essay in how to circumvent the discipline strategies of one particularly cruel headteacher.
It’s all related to us with nostalgia and wit by Jack Black, who voices an adult Stan looking back at his childhood. It’s a sublime piece of casting, with Black just the right mix of childlike enthusiasm and adult knowledge, able to discern the influences of growing up on the doorstep of NASA’s HQ and understand the thrill of the country at the time, as the promise of space exploration instilled a sense of optimism and hope at the fast-arriving future. All these things brilliantly come together in an afternoon that Stan and his siblings spend at the nearby AstroWorld theme park.
Linklater’s decision to animate all this might sound like a strange, unnecessary one, but it’s the key to the film’s unique charm. Rotoscoping over footage, in the same way that he did for Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, he uses the effect not to detach us from the real world but to immerse us in Stan’s subjective reality. In this Day-Glo, vibrant picture book of imagination, there’s no line between what actually happens, what young Stan daydreams and what grown-up Stan misremembers, and so they all become part of the same truth. It’s perhaps the most accurate autobiography a filmmaker could committed celluloid – an honest chronicle of a young boy’s creativity being forged by everything around him.
At one point, President John F Kennedy’s famous speech appears on the living room TV screen – like everything else we see, also in rotoscope. “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things,” he declares, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood is a stunning celebration of childhood, creativity and possibility that’s assembled with the most painstaking difficult and craft – and, almost like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, Linklater makes it look like the easiest thing on the planet.