Oscar winning director Damien Chazelle is leering on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter this week, and we all know what that means: 2018 awards season is officially in season, sweeties! Chazelle (the filmmaker responsible for La La Land, which I despise, and Whiplash, which I love) is one of the many men behind the forthcoming First Man, a Neil Armstrong biopic starring Ryan Gosling as the VMA trophy himself.
After seeing the trailer thrice—once on my 13" computer screen, once in a traditional movie theater, and once on a real IMAX screen before Mission: Impossible – Fallout, I can safely say in my Tommy Lee Jonesiest voice that I don’t care! Not because I am not a proud American who thinks what Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Other Dude, and Ed Harris did to get our boys there and back was one of our country’s finest moments, but because I’ve seen this story seven million times before.
Though, sure, technically the story of Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 has not yet been told in a major way by a Hollywood filmmaker, I’m pretty sure Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, Space Cowboys, 2001, The Martian, and Interstellar have—as a whole—provided everything I need from the “dudes go into space” genre. There will be multiple scenes of men failing, multiple scenes of men screaming at each other, multiple scenes of men drawing lines and circles on chalk boards while saying things like, “here’s the problem,” multiple scenes of men staring stoically into space, and multiple scenes in which men tell their wives that, oops, they may not come back from space because their egos are too big but please tell the kids daddy loves them, and one huge final triumph.
But here’s the thing: Chazelle knows we’re all expecting that, and would like us believe this one’s different. He says he was inspired by documentaries like For All Mankind and Moonwalk One, not Apollo 13. (Rude!) “A lot of our conversations had to do with the Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker and Frederick Wiseman [all celebrated documentarians],and those cinema verite documentaries of the 1960s,” he said. “How they were put together and the ways you could join shots in such a way that it felt emotionally continuous, but actually wasn’t.” Writes THR:
Chazelle knew next to nothing about Armstrong when the producers approached him. But the more he read, the more intrigued he became by this seemingly unemotional figure who, he discovered, had endured multiple tragedies, including the loss of his home in a fire and the death of his daughter Karen at age 3. He began to read everything he could about Apollo 11 and its predecessors. “I wanted to wrap my mind around it: What’s it like, not just the launch but in that tiny capsule?” he explains. “I wanted to know it beat by beat, all the nitty-gritty.”
Soon Spotlight screenwriter Josh Singer joined the Universal project. “What Damien initially pitched was to show how hard [space flight] was,” he says. “There’s a lot of mythology around NASA, a lot of sugarcoating, and you start pulling back that myth and trying to put [the audience] in the cockpit to feel what these guys must have felt.”
Says Chazelle: “I remember thinking, if I could somehow get this movie to capture that combination of the utterly mundane and the utterly terrifying and the awe-inspiring [it would be wonderful]. But that’s a difficult combo.”
The problem is, again, I don’t care about this perspective!!! We keep seeing movies set in the cockpit (which was fine for a while), but anyone who has seen Apollo 13 seven million times like I have knows the best performance in that movie is given by Kathleen Quinlan, who plays Jim Lovell’s wife Marilyn! Why didn’t someone adapt First Man (the biography) and tell this story from someone else’s point of view, like, maybe Armstrong’s wife Janet! CALL THE MOVIE MRS. ARMSTRONG, FOR PETE’S SAKE. I understand that she didn’t step foot on the moon, but there’s some good drama there, so mine it! Give us something fresh! Surprise us for one!
Claire Foy plays the recently deceased Armstrong in the film, which seems like tremendous casting, but I worry she won’t be given enough screen time—despite the fact that she is given the best line in the film’s trailer. (“YOU’RE A BUNCH OF BOYS. YOU DON’T HAVE ANYTHING UNDER CONTROL.”)
Just look how fun a movie about Neil Armstrong that doesn’t give a shit about Neil Armstrong could be: