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