Review: Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood

Apollo 10 1/2 screenshot

Year: 2022 | Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Richard Linklater is back, ladies and gentlemen. I know that this is technically the second day of release of this film and that I should make this a strictly-critical review with proper analysis and all that jazz (and I’ll get to that soon..ish…maybe), but you’ll have to forgive me for “fanboying out” for a second, because this is a big deal for me. Linklater has been my favorite filmmaker throughout most of my adult cinephile life, but it’s an observable fact that it’s been a while since we’ve had a real “Linklater” film (the last one being 2016’s underrated Everybody Wants Some!!); in fact, I doubt I would be the only one to go so far as to call 2019’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette one of his worst films. So for him to return to form with a film that feels so warmly familiar to fans of his style while also being completely fresh and different than anything he’s ever done before as Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood is certainly a cause for celebration.

The most obvious points of comparison to this film from Linklater’s prior works are his other rotoscoped films, 2001’s Waking Life and 2006’s A Scanner Darkly — although the latter will likely always be an outlier in his filmography, being a drug-addled, conspiracy-fueled frenzy that now feels like a precursor to films like Inherent Vice (2014) and Under the Silver Lake (2018). But there is certainly a connection to be made with the former: In Apollo 10 1/2, rotoscoping is used to create a sense of the possible unreality of memory and to blend it with the certain unreality of fantasy, similarly to how the technique is used in Waking Life to create a literal dream world. Neither is an exact replication of reality due to the unreliability of the narrator. And while Waking Life features vignettes of sorts of an assortment of characters (both real and fictional) waxing philosophical on a number of different topics, here Linklater uses various media from his childhood to paint a non-objective perspective of a particular time and place (the late ’60s; Houston, Texas). Films, TV shows, news reports and (perhaps most of all) music all shape how “Stan” (i.e. young Linklater, voiced by newcomer Milo Coy) and his entire family perceive their world. It’s similar to Waking Life, and yet not the same at all.

But to me, Apollo 10 1/2 actually has more in common with Linklater’s other coming-of-age films, namely 1993’s Dazed and Confused; its “spiritual sequel,” the aforementioned Everybody Wants Some!! and 2014’s Boyhood. All of these films offer a perspective of growing up in a specific time in a specific place, and they all contextualize those times and places through iconic soundtracks. Linklater clearly has the gift of having not forgotten what it’s like to be a kid, but never before has he captured the childlike wonder that he does in the second half of this film. His work has dealt with a full gambit of feelings and situations that can define different periods of a child’s life, and there aren’t many filmmakers who can make that claim (Mike Mills seems like his most direct contemporary). When I was fortunate enough to speak with Linklater at the Ohio premiere of Boyhood back in 2014, he told me that François Truffaut and Ingmar Bergman were the two greatest filmmakers who made more than one film about children. While I’m sure that he would scoff at me for even suggesting this, maybe it’s time that we consider adding him to that list.

All in all, Apollo 10 1/2 is the kind of Linklaterian experience that I’ve been sorely missing in my life for far too long. Maybe I’m cutting this film too much slack for its flaws; for example, Jack Black’s omnipresent narration isn’t going to be for everyone. But I just couldn’t help but be utterly and completely charmed by this wonderful exercise in nostalgia. And while some other filmmakers (not naming any names) might be encouraged to take the easy way out and rely on nostalgia alone, Linklater still manages to inject his “vanity project” with a healthy shot of philosophical depth, which is what sets him apart from his peers and cements his status as my all-time favorite filmmaker.

Language: English
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 1 hr. 37 min.
Rating: PG-13

Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Milo Coy, Jack Black, Zachary Levi, Glen Powell, Josh Wiggins

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