Richard Linklater is known for writing and directing personal stories central to the heart of Texas. From “Boyhood” to “Bernie,” we’ve taken many strolls through the Lone Star State courtesy of Linklater’s brilliance. With his latest cinematic achievement, “Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood,” the Austin-based director presents a story on one of his childhood memories about watching the Apollo 11 moon landing. Informed by growing up in the Houston suburbs in the 1960s, Linklater takes us on a wild ride of childhood fantasies, real world space exploration, and what it was like growing up in the shadows of heroes.
“Apollo 10 ½” greets the audience with an upgraded rotoscope animation from Linklater’s previous adventures, “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly.” The movie opens on a kickball court where young Stan is playing with his elementary school friends. Unbeknownst to Stan, two government officials (Glen Powell and Zachary Levi) are observing his every move. They whisk him away to spill confidential secrets about a mission they desperately need Stan’s help with: “We accidentally built the lunar module….a little too small.” From here on out, it’s 10-year-old Stan’s job to make it to space safely as the first person to ever walk on the moon.
A fantasy film juxtaposed with actual childhood memories, “Apollo 10 ½” becomes a true love letter to growing up in Houston during a time of great importance. While Stan dreams of the day that NASA actually needs his help on a space mission, he is simultaneously bombarded with growing up in a large family, navigating real-life current events of the late-1960s, and doing his best to not get hurt playing dodgeball. These are some of the many tangents that Linklater focuses on, while painting a backdrop of how life was back then in the suburbs. It’s an America that barely exists anymore, where kids stayed outside until the street lamps came on, families eating together around the dinner table, and one TV in the living room broadcasting only three channels. But, it’s with these trips down memory lane that the film becomes an impressive mix of comedy and fantasy.
“Apollo 10 ½” may be Linklater’s most personal story yet, defined by the director’s real-life upbringing just a short distance away from all of the action at Johnson Space Center. Narrated by frequent collaborator Jack Black, Stan’s day-dreaming and imagination come alive due to incredible animation work and a screenplay dripping with nostalgia. We are transported to a time where anything seemed possible and childhood dreams could soon become reality.
When the film finally arrives at the much-anticipated moon landing, where Stan envisions himself as the first person to walk on the moon, the true-to-life sequence of events paint a more anticlimactic picture than many of us like to admit. It’s an authentic portrayal of a historical event seen through the eyes of a child who witnessed it firsthand. Or did he? Linklater is too smart of a director to end the film on a somber note, so he lets Stan’s parents explain how a child’s memory and imagination can coincide with one another. It’s a sentimental ending to a beautiful film.
Ticket rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟1/2