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Film Review: “Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood” Is Lovely to Behold, Yet Otherwise Empty

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 31st, 2022

Film poster: “Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood”

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (Richard Linklater, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.

If Paul Thomas Anderson can do it, why not Richard Linklater? With Licorice Pizza, the former crafted a rollicking narrative dramedy set in the decade of his childhood (the 1970s) and now here comes the latter doing the same for the 1960s with Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. Both, each in their way, are shaggy-dog stories, though Linklater (Where’d You Go, Bernadette) makes his movie even more of one by having narrator Jack Black (Jumanji: The Next Level) walk us through the ins and outs. Black is an older version of protagonist Stan, a stand-in for the director, and through his halcyon gaze we revisit the seeming idyll of yesteryear, the entirety of it beautifully animated. It’s enjoyable enough to watch, but not much beyond that.

All the best stuff is in the trailer. There, we see young Stan recruited by two secretive NASA agents who sheepishly admit that the lunar-landing module slated for the first moon landing is too small for adult use. Instead, they need to send up a fourth-grader. It’s a wildly inventive intro into the space age and the many ways in which the then-new gadgets, gizmos and attendant lingo entered the imagination and the lexicon.

Milo Coy as Stan in APOLLO 10 1/2: A SPACE AGE CHILDHOOD ©Netflix

Unfortunately, while it is obviously clear that this is a youthful flight of fancy, Linklater never really runs with it, returning to the opening conceit upon occasion but spending most of his time walking us through the joys of Houston living as he once experienced it. The voice actors—among them Lee Eddy (The One You’re With) and Zachary Levi (Shazam!)—are all strong, and the visuals pleasing, but there is very little there there.

That’s not to say that trips down memory lane make for inherently slight narratives, but rather that this particular treatment does very little with the material beyond present a fictionalized, artfully drawn portrait of a frequently visited time period. How many times do we need to hear Neil Armstrong say, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”? The Apollo program was an historically important milestone in human ingenuity, but simply replaying its greatest hits is not enough.

A still from APOLLO 10 1/2: A SPACE AGE CHILDHOOD ©Netflix

So, back to that trailer, which encompasses the opening sequence of Apollo 10½ and not much else. In it there is the promise of true cinematic innovation, a way to simultaneously engage with nostalgia and history, with no small amount of fun in the mix, as well. Would that Linklater had explored such a premise even more. Instead, he gives us this gorgeous, if dramatically limp, post card from the past.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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