There can’t be a Richard Linklater film without the essence of time driving the narrative force. Here is a director who thrives off of memories, nostalgia and the wholesome but mundane life you can find in middle class suburban Texas. His latest Apollo 10 ½ is a fantastical semi-autobiographical retelling of growing up in Houston in the late 60’s during the great space race. Linklater also returns to animation for the first time since 2006’s A Scanner Darkly. This time around the rotoscope animation allows for the film to treat every major occurrence during the 60’s have a childlike viewpoint, (after all our main character is only 10 and a half) creating a wonderful reminder that some events will not have an affect on us for years to come. All narrated by Jack Black it plays like an extended Wonder Years episode. Even at its most specific Linklater has the ability to make everyone feel connected and longing for the days of summer fun.
NASA messed up and their only hope is a 10 and a half year old boy named Stanley (Milo Coy), a kid who wishes his father (Bill Wise) had a cooler job at the space center other than just pushing around papers all day. So, when two agents in the form of Zachary Levi and Glen Powell explain to him that they built their spacecraft too small they need Stanley to fly it into space and land on the moon for them. Of course, Stanley must keep it a secret, will go through training and after that can have the best summer of his life. It is a narrative that feels both original and exciting and Linklater allows for this notion to clearly be a fantasy, but never include Stanley waking up from some sort of dream back into reality. No to Stanley and every child of the 60’s staring up into the sky this is the truth.
A coherent narrative may not be the thing carrying Apollo 10 ½ but it does not need to. For anyone who did not grow up in Houston in the 60’s some of this may seem unfamiliar to you. Linklater does a great job at not just reminding us of major events, but ones that are close to home for him. There is the building of the Astrodome which to Houston sports fans was the creation of Mecca. There is a prolonged moment where Stanley goes to Astroworld theme park, and it aligns with the landing on the moon. This is a wonderful moment that shows that while many not from that era would assume everyone would be glued to their TVs waiting for the landing life still went on and for children the summer fun needed to continue. These specific moment do test the milage for its viewers however, for only being 90 minutes there is a sense of repetition that while endearing can become somewhat tiresome. This is consistent with most Linklater films, Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some! does the same thing, so it really all comes down to the audience’s patience with it all. Apollo 10 ½ works best when it guides us through Stanley’s summer days and less his “part” in the space race. It is not that these moments are unbearable, but they come with distraction and often feel thrown around throughout the film. Then again isn’t that what being a kid is all about. Taking on multiple adventures, seeing the greatness in them all and realizing that you too can go to the moon.
APOLLO 10 1/2 will be released on Netflix April 1