Directed by: Richard Linklater
Distributed by: Netflix
Written by Michael Clawson
Warm, snappy, and fanciful, Richard Linklater’s “Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood” blends memories of an adolescence in the suburbs of 1969 Houston with a yarn about a 10-year-old beating Neil Armstrong to the moon. Jack Black voices Stan, a grown man who narrates as he recounts growing up in the ‘60s, and more specifically, the period surrounding the moment when he got a front-row ticket to the Space Race. This sweet, vibrant film, which is sharply visualized through rotoscope animation, begins with grade-school Stan being pulled out of class by two NASA agents, who explain there’s been a snafu in the lead-up to their next mission: comically, their space shuttle was built a touch too small for any of their astronauts to actually ride on. Stan, they inform him, has been identified as the perfect replacement pilot, and Stan accepts their pitch.
Despite what this set-up might lead you to expect, “Apollo 10 ½” is more earth-bound childhood memoir than revisionist space travel epic. It’s not long into Stan’s training at NASA that grown-up Stan takes us off the narrative tracks laid thus fair and delves into much of everything else he nostalgically remembers about his boyhood and the world of 1969 as it registered in his young eyes. Richard Linklater is a master of plotless storytelling, and here, he excels as ever at stringing together scenes such that each is as engaging, funny, and flavorful as the last. From pick-up baseball games with neighborhood kids to double-features at the drive-in with his parents and many siblings, Stan remembers his youth with great affection, and Linklater brings ‘60s Texas to life with panache. When the story finally circles back to young Stan’s journey to the moon, the brilliance of the film’s structure is made clear. Approached head-on, nostalgia can be gooey. By having Stan’s memories play as if they were side-notes, or an extended tangent away from the more sensational thread involving Stan’s upcoming space flight, Linklater is able to find a more easy-going stride as episodes unfold. All together, they add up to a vividly textured ode to a unique experience of boyhood.
“Apollo 10½: A Space Childhood” Trailer