Nostalgia, as the saying goes, is one hell of a drug, and one that the American film and television industry is addicted to. From vintage TV show reboots to “legacy-quels” like Yell and Spider-man: No Coming Home who profit from the affection for long-running franchises, creators seem to know that the easy money doesn’t come from creating new happy memories, but from bringing back the happy memories you have from 10 years ago, 20 or 30 years old. It’s the narrative equivalent of a band at a concert calling out the name of the city they’re playing in – an enthusiasm you don’t have to work hard to inspire.
At first glance, Richard Linklater Apollo 10-1/2: A Childhood in the Space Age does not seem to belong to the same category. It’s an original and personal story, based in large part on the filmmaker’s own youth. The directing style is distinctive, applying the same computer-animated versions of filmed performances that Linklater previously used in waking life and A dark scanner. Yet while there are charming moments of specificity in Linklater’s narrative, it also leans way too strongly to throw a bunch of touchstones for a white suburban American childhood of the late 60s. ; if not, is there really a reason for you to watch?
The time period in this case is very specifically 1969, when Linklater’s replacement Stan (Milo Coy) is in fourth grade in a suburb of Houston, Texas, where his father (Bill Wise) works in an administrative capacity for NASA. Told from a 50-year-old retirement by an older Stan (Jack Black), it begins with the whimsical idea that Stanley has been recruited by two government employees (Zachary Levi and Glen Powell) to go on a test trip on the moon before the predicted milestone event, as the original capsule was accidentally made too small for a grown adult.
It’s a fun little idea – a child’s view of a historical moment that applies quite specifically to him– and Linklater eventually comes back to it. But pretty much as soon as the subject is broached, the story returns to Stanley’s establishment of family life as the youngest of six children and the various activities that would constitute his daily routine. The mood is similar to other reminiscence-based tales like A Christmas story Where The Sandlotwith episodic adventures and moments of fun, still say that Apollo 10-1/2 the chronicle of hobbies of the time was “complete” would be a gross understatement. Instead of showing Stan and his siblings watching TV shows, Linklater literally fills the screen with title cards of the most popular programs of that year; board games also get a treatment for how many names you can drop. Most fictionalized tales of this genre at least allow time for their individual memories to develop to a satisfying resolution. It often seems that Linklater has so many items on his to-do list that each anecdote ends after about a minute and a half.
It also doesn’t help that it explores one of the most navel-gazing eras in American history. There is some interest in looking at this period of social upheaval from the perspective of a white child who barely understood what the Vietnam War and the civil rights movements were like, but it still means a parade of raindrops. needle played by The Byrds, Credence Clearwater Revival, The 5th Dimension and others. On the occasions when Linklater tunes in to something more specific — like Stan driving with his mother (Lee Eddy) and asking for help identifying hippies in the wild —Apollo 10-1/2 actually finds its own voice, distinct from “the 60s was a very turbulent time”.
There is ultimately more time spent on Stan’s “NASA training”, which is partly a manifestation of his wish that his father’s job at NASA was cooler than just pushing paper. It might have been worth exploring this relationship, or one of these relationships, more than we spent this time nudging us about how back in the day you had to adjust the antennas in rabbit ear shape of your TV to get good reception. Neither the stylized animation nor the story content is enough to make Stan’s story Stan’s Story, rather than an avatar for “person old enough to remember the moon landing”. Linklater injects nostalgia straight into your veins, waiting for the endorphin rush that comes from “remember that?”