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Growing up during the space race and in a part of the country where everything is newly built to accommodate it, Stanley’s memories are thus closely tied with the American zeitgeist of that moment, even as Stan admits now in voiceover (lovingly provided by Jack Black) that he didn’t quite feel part of it. The “youth gap” that his older sisters resent as their folks support the Vietnam War on television is completely foreign to Stan; he cares more about watching Dark Shadows after school and finding ways to avoid his principal’s corporal punishments for misbehavior in the classroom.
Nevertheless, unbeknownst to his family, Stan is also secretly involved with NASA. In between sequences that provide slices of the many joys and sorrows that come with being a kid, there’s also a subplot about Stan working on the side for NASA; he’s part of their clandestine Apollo 10 1/2 mission—the result of NASA accidentally building a space module too small and, instead of scrapping it, deciding to recruit a local fifth grader to pilot it to the moon one week before the Apollo 11 mission.
The way Linklater seamlessly slips between joyful vignettes of his pint-sized doppelgänger going to Astroworld (a now defunct local theme park) with the same kid also being an ace pilot who’s so cool under pressure that he’s reading MAD Magazine during launch, speaks to the wonderful simplicity of a child’s logic and understanding of the world. Yet the intelligence of the film’s adult perspective is derived from its wisdom to not talk down to those fantasies or sheepishly mock their naivety. Apollo 10 1/2 recounts them with the same earnest cadence that it records Stan’s steady diet of ‘60s television, seeing value in soberly and honestly savoring delusions alongside the memories of one-season TV wonders only someone who was then-nine would recall 50 years later.
The way Linklater seems to so easily access his subconscious, beckoning with clear eyes the music and glories that linger in the back of any adult’s dream life, has been an impressive staple of many of his films, from the 12-year passion project of Boyhood to the high school delirium of Dazed and Confused.
In its own way, Apollo 10 1/2 might be viewed as a prequel to the latter. Yet its the film’s insistence on preserving the innocence of that era, even as it admits “Stanley” was a sheltered white kid obviously living in tumultuous times, that makes the movie stand apart and find new value in its rotoscope designs—even cheekily animating over the actual cartoons Linklater grew up watching.
In its own way, then, Apollo 10 1/2 is another fine entry into the apparently new genre of directors’ sojourns down memory lane. So far, this critic has liked all of the recent films touching on these ideas, with each demonstrating how remarkably distinct and individual formative experiences can be. As a consequence, the movies are as different as the men who’ve made them.
Source: Den of Geek