Richard Linklater has established himself as the unofficial American champion of the Hangout Movie throughout his career. In movies like Dazed and confused and Everyone wants some!! Linklater has lovingly recreated eras that have been lost over time. In the process, he made films about the finiteness of youth and the way the kids of the 70’s and 80’s were ready and not ready for what was to come.
In his Before trilogy, Linklater took the structure of a hangout film and used it to make three separate films that are among the most romantic ever made. The three films, which were made over a period of 18 years, function on their own in a similar way as vignettes of specific moments in time Dazed and confused and Everyone wants some!! do. Together they form a trilogy about how love can evolve and endure over time.
Now Linklater has made its most outwardly sentimental time capsule yet Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. Written and directed by Linklater, the Netflix animated film is inspired by its filmmaker’s childhood and is set in the late 1960s. It imagines an alternate reality where a simple mishap resulted in NASA secretly recruiting a boy to fly to the moon ahead of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
not how Dazed and confused, Apollo 10 1/2 is less a portrait of a specific time and more the recorded history of an era. Narrated by Jack Black, the film uses its alternate reality premise as a hook to draw the viewer in, only to spend most of its 98-minute running time addressing the various ups, downs, and contradictions of American society in the 1960s. As a result, the film feels more like an impressionistic memorabilia than a fun, light-hearted sci-fi adventure.
The film begins with its lead actor, Stanley (Milo Coy), being secretly recruited by two NASA agents (played by Glen Powell and Zachary Levi). Before deciding to dive headfirst into Stanley’s astronaut training, however, the film takes the first of many narrative detours about life in the 1960s. Black takes on the perspective of an older Stanley, many years removed from the adventures of his younger self.
Black’s narrator’s distance from the film’s central era lends the film an air of melancholy Apollo 10½, and brings emotion and heart to what could otherwise be considered nothing more than a series of historical anecdotes. Stanley’s observations are always honest and sharp, but it’s the way Linklater manages to root his protagonist’s many anecdotal detours in love and compassion that makes the film connect the way it does.
To Linklater’s credit, Apollo 10½ never comes across as sickly sweet or sugary. While an undeniable sense of seriousness runs throughout the film, Linklater never overly romanticizes the 1960s. Black’s elder Stanley is quick to point out the various troubles of the era, including the darkness of the Vietnam War and the controversies surrounding NASA’s attempts to reach the moon. With this, Linklater succeeds in making a declaration of love to the 1960s that is never blinded by nostalgia.
However, he makes the era look incredibly good. Using a mix of rotoscopy and traditional animation, Linklater spins Apollo 10½ one of the most beautiful, lustrous animated films to be released in recent memory. Brilliant primary colors shine throughout the film, its warm visuals only complementing Black’s loving narration. If Douglas Sirk had ever made an animated film, this is what it would look like Apollo 10½: A Space Age Adventurewhich is just another way of saying that the entire film looks like a 1960’s postcard come alive.
For some viewers Apollo 10½The plotless structure of can be too meandering to hold your attention, and there are a few moments where it feels like Linklater is reminiscing just for the sake of it. But those who manage to meet the filmmaker halfway will be rewarded for their patience Apollo 10½‘s third act, as Linklater begins to merge Stanley’s personal vision of the space race with the actual transmission of Armstrong and Aldrin’s historic landing.
Jumping back and forth between Stanley’s personal mission to the moon and that of Armstrong and Aldrin, Linklater momentarily allows the subjective reality of a person’s memory to exist alongside the objective truth of the story. He makes something as massive as the moon landing feel personal and life-changing.
Linklater will not exit Apollo 10½ without considering how much of the wonder he felt during America’s space age was real and how much of it he brought to bear over time. “You know what memory is like,” says Stanley’s mother as she puts him to bed near the end of the film. But Linklater isn’t interested in tearing the veil of joy through which he sees his childhood. That’s not what Apollo 10½ is. If anything, it’s a film about how wonder is one of the few feelings that can last forever — even if the moments you experience it never do.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, April 1st.
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