Have you ever sat with an elderly person and listened to them tell their stories? There’s something powerful about that experience even if the stories don’t particularly go anywhere. I know when my Grandparents were still alive I loved hearing them talk about what their parents were like, what cars they drove, food they ate, what it was like to serve in WWII etc. As they shared their stories I’d think about my own life and how despite the different eras we weren’t that different after all.
Sometimes film can capture this experience. Some might call it nostalgia, and it is, but when done well it can be a gift, helping to bind generations in a special and powerful way. This is the experience offered in Richard Linklater’s new film Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. It’s nostalgia in the best sense of the word, and I adored it.
Some may watch Apollo 10 1/2 and want more plot but I’m glad he kept it simple and wistful. It’s interesting because both Licorice Pizza and Belfast from last year have similar story structures, but I prefer this film to either of those (I liked both of them). I think part of my response is because I love animation (even rotoscoped animation) but the other part is I connect more with a story of a big family in the suburbs than the families in the other 2 films.
As I said, the animation in this film is rotoscoped, or traced from live action. Linklater has used this style before in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. I haven’t seen the latter but did a whole episode on Waking Life with my friend Stanford you can find here. It’s way more pretentious and existential than Apollo 10 1/2, but I still enjoyed it.
Linklater has long been a favorite filmmaker of mine. I loved Boyhood and the Before moves are transcendent. But Apollo 10 1/2 goes back to his early films like Dazed and Confused and Slacker. He does such a good job of taking you to a time and place and helping you see the glory in the small moments of every day living.
For example, there’s a great scene in Apollo 10 1/2 where the kids go from playing games outside on the lawn (statue tag) to playing games inside- board games like Life and Clue. As someone from a family that loves games this was so comforting to watch. It made me want to get my family together and play games again.
Such a yearning for a simpler time is the power of Apollo 10 1/2. I don’t know if that time actually existed but it’s comforting to imagine it did. The incredible soundtrack also helps in that escapism with bands like CCR, Johnny Cash, and The Byrds (much like Dazed and Confused which has one of the best soundtracks in movie history).
We also get to experience young Stanley’s fantasy about getting plucked into the space program for a secret mission to the moon. Plus, we see the stories of the NASA officials as they work on the Apollo 11 mission. This part of the story probably gives the structure and plot some will need, but I could have had the movie be just the everyday living and been perfectly content.
But in truth, I loved everything about Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. It made me happy in a way few films have since the pandemic started, and I felt a desire to watch it again as soon as I finished. It’s on Netflix so gather the family together and watch a sweet film about a family of the past. You won’t regret it.
9.5 out of 10
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