Based on James R. Hansen’s book, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling, First Man tells the story of the life and times of Neil Armstrong from 1961 to July 20, 1969 when he became the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. The film includes a look at Armstrong’s personal life, the mission which made him a household name and the failed missions which led to that successful mission.
According to IMDB, Hansen is an expert in aerospace history and the history of science and technology who has published a dozen books and numerous articles covering a wide variety of topics, including the early days of aviation, the history of aerospace engineering, NASA, the Moon landings, the Space Shuttle program, and China’s role in space. First Man is Armstrong’s singular authorized biography.
In other words, the man knows what he’s talking about. I include this for those who are concerned with the movies historical accuracy because Chazelle chose not to replicate the iconic American “flag-planting” on the moon. A smart move, only if he figured out another way, or a better way to emphasize the triumph of being the first man to walk on the moon; but does he?
No he does not. I sat for over two hours waiting for Ryan Gosling to plant his foot on the moon and say the now famous quote. I saw it and I was unimpressed. He may as well have gone ahead and reenacted the flag planting or showed the footage because the event felt incomplete without it, and what was done instead made the story feel overworked, insincere and corny.
I understood the attempt to create tension by demonstrating NASA’s failures, thereby creating this great moment when success is finally achieved, but I didn’t feel the tension and build up from the failed missions enough to feel the triumph of Armstrong’s mission. The movie was too busy teaching us about the life of Neil Armstrong and then somewhere along the way the politics of the day were inserted into the story line (not that I’m mad about it because my favorite part of this entire movie is Gil Scott-Heron’s poem). I learned some things about Neil Armstrong, but aside from the facts about his daughter I wasn’t very interested.
The stories of the astronauts who gave their lives in the name of science, technology and space exploration and Neil’s own failed test was the part of the story I found most enjoyable and it was where I learned the most. I wish more focus had been placed on the failed missions/tests and less on Armstrong and his family life, and his wife smoking, for crying out loud. The meatiest part of the story was sort of glossed over and inserted as an “aside” in a missed opportunity for what would have made a much more interesting and focused movie.
Chazelle and Gosling are reunited here for the first time since La La Land and the direction he administered and direction taken had me scratching my head. (I didn’t care for La La Land (my review in the link) and I have the same luke-warm feeling about this movie.) Ryan Gosling walks about as if he is made of wood or something. He has little to no facial expression for most of the film. I mean, was Armstrong autistic or something? (I’m not being facetious. I have a master’s degree in psychology, I’ve worked with many autistic people, I know what autism looks like, I know it can be quite serious and I do not speak of it lightly, so take your outrage and offense elsewhere. I am honestly mulling the question.) Like, tell me what I’m missing here? No doubt the man was a gifted engineer, so it wouldn’t be a far-fetched theory that he was perhaps on the spectrum, with some social awkwardness, but I need someone to tell me that and not leave me guessing about it, and somehow explain this performance of Gosling’s. And if I had to stare into Ryan Gosling’s baby blues for one more damn second while he was in that little capsule I thought I was going to scream! It was like being hypnotized to sleep or something in a movie that was already too long and too slow in spots. Thank goodness there were no opening credits!
The cinematography, effects, hair, make up, wardrobe, lighting, set design, are all impeccable. The integration of old footage is brilliant but not done seamlessly.
First Man earned 5 bloops out of 10. It so-so, perhaps worth it if you don’t have to pay. You may like it more if you’re more interested in the life of Neil Armstrong than I. Gosling’s inexplicably robotic performance was just too much to bear, the more interesting parts of the movie deserved more time/time spent on Armstrong’s personal life could have been reduced, and at 2 hours and 21 minutes it was too long with a weak payoff in the end. From what I can see, this film is not a contender in the Oscar race as far as acting, directing or screenplay. I found it totally unmemorable as it floats in a sea of other “meh” movies made this year.
Thank you for reading. You can scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, hit the “follow” button and enter your email address to subscribe to bloopbymimi, and never miss a review; or you can follow me on twitter (which I must get more savvy with and active on!) @bloopbymimi1
1 = worst ever, avoid at all cost
2 = very bad, forget about it!
3 = poor movie, not recommended
4 = not good, even for free – NO!
5 = so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6 = not bad, could have been better
7 = good movie, worth seeing
8 = great movie, don’t miss it!
9 = excellent movie, a must see!
10 = a masterpiece, go see it now!
What I’m Seeing Next
A lot. Too much to get into. I’ll be posting every day for the next several days.
A Star is Born
The House with a Clock in Its Walls
A Simple Favor
Support the Girls
Crazy Rich Asians
The Happytime Murders
Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Sorry to Bother You
Avengers: Infinity War
You Were Never Really Here
A Quiet Place
Ready Player One
A Wrinkle in Time
The Florida Project
Den of Thieves
All the Money in the World
The Greatest Showman
The Disaster Artist
Call Me By Your Name
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape of Water
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Victoria and Abdul
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
The Big Sick
All Eyez on Me
It Comes at Night
The Wedding Plan
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Kong: Skull Island
The Girl with All the Gifts
A Cure for Wellness
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
I Am Not Your Negro