An ill-fated fisherman and a young man with Down syndrome converge while on the run from distinctly different circumstances and come to form an unforgettable friendship in this charming southern adventure that leads them through the American frontier in pursuit of their dreams and a better life.
Directed by: Tyler Nilson, Mike Schwartz
Written by: Tyler Nilson, Mike Schwartz
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, Thomas Haden Church, and Bruce Dern
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language throughout, some violence and smoking
Release Date: August 23, 2019
Run-time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Two men on the run from distinctly different circumstances converge and come to form an unforgettable friendship in this charming southern adventure that leads them through the American frontier on their way to Florida. Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon unites Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome who is on the run from his caregivers at a nursing home, and Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), an ill-fated fisherman who stirred up trouble and is being chased by a couple of crazy, crab-fishing competitors. Both men are tired of being repressed by an unsympathetic society, with Zak longing for basic freedoms, and Tyler looking to free himself from poverty. Zak wants nothing more than to train to be a wrestler at the personal school of his life-long wrestling hero, the Salt Water Redneck, and Tyler, seeking to escape the consequences of his crime, agrees to help him get there. Together the two of them embark on a journey that has them traverse the coast and backwater countryside in search for a better life.
As someone who loves adventures and longs for more of them in my own life, I enjoyed The Peanut Butter Falcon immensely. It’s a funny, heartwarming, and empowering film that is easily among my favorites of the year. It feels like a fresh take on a classic tale, in the vein of stories like Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. While watching it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of 2016’s The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by Taika Waititi, which is another one of my favorite films. Despite having some familiar story beats, The Peanut Butter Falcon still feels unique, and even important with its authentic depiction of Down syndrome. Zak’s disability may limit him in the views of society, but it doesn’t encapsulate him, nor should it be used to define him as a person.
I admire the way in which we learn about Zak’s condition through the watchful eyes of Tyler. Like probably the majority of us, he’s not an expert on Down syndrome, but he learns by getting to know Zak and by carefully observing him without judgment. He treats Zak like a regular person, and never thinks less of him because of his Down syndrome. We witness Tyler as he develops a great patience and understanding, and even begins to look after and defend Zak like a younger brother. This is especially poignant when we find out more about Tyler’s past with his own brother (in what is yet another extremely brief but effective Jon Berthal movie appearance). Over the course of the film, Zak and Tyler build a beautiful friendship that develops organically, and we as an audience learn through these characters, just as they learn from each other.
One dynamic of the film that I find interesting is that while Tyler is attempting to escape from people that are trying to harm him, Zak is conversely running from people that are trying to help him. Being underage and without family, Zak has been forced by the state to live with the elderly in a nursing home, where he is cared for by a woman named Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). However, he feels confident that he can get by on his own and he isn’t going to let a nursing home keep him from reaching for his dreams. After his escape, Eleanor sets out in search for him, afraid of the danger and harm that could come his way if left unsupervised out in the real world. While she does have his best interest at heart, she is nurturing to the point of being restrictive. When she eventually does discover the runaway duo, she ends up reluctantly joining them on their journey to meet the Salt Water Redneck.
This little indie movie features a fantastic cast, and marks the debut of Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome in real life, who gives a touching, brave, and honest performance. While the whole acting ensemble is delightful, I think Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson give two of the best performances of the year so far. LaBeouf elicits such a layered performance as a desperate and lonely man who is struggling so hard to get by and has screwed up badly in his time of personal crisis. It’s evident that society has been hard on Tyler, but regardless of his faults and failures, his humanity still shines through and makes him an admirable albeit flawed underdog. LaBeouf is a tremendously talented actor and my fingers are crossed that this will be the year he finally gets his first Oscar nomination. Dakota is incredibly endearing as Eleanor and adds an exceptional performance full of kindness and inner-conflict as she tries to figure what’s best for Zak’s future. Thomas Haden Church makes a wonderful and memorable appearance as the legendary Salt Water Redneck, while Bruce Dern is also pleasant in his small role. My only wish is that Jon Bernthal would have been given more to do in the film. If I remember correctly, he doesn’t even have any spoken lines, which feels like a waste, but I do admire how he keeps showing up in so many great movies, even if just for a couple minutes.
One of the most admirable things about The Peanut Butter Falcon is how it came to be created in the first place. The film’s directors, having discovered Zack Gottsagen and his acting talent, knew that it would be difficult for him as an actor with Down syndrome to find roles in order to fulfill his dream of becoming an actor. So they decided to write a movie based around a character that he could play, and that’s how he came to be the star of The Peanut Butter Falcon. It’s my hope that after his impressive debut, he’ll continue to get roles in Hollywood.
All in all, I could not recommend The Peanut Butter Falcon more. It’s such an enjoyable and heartwarming film about finding yourself, chasing your dreams, and respectfully treating others as equals, no matter how different they appear. It’s an experience you can just sit back and enjoy with its easy-going musical score, picturesque scenery, and soothing atmosphere, while it all leads up to an amusing and satisfying finale. If you’re a fan of wrestling, you’ll surely appreciate it all the more. At its core, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a story of love, faith, and friendship, all bound to a boat that’s gently careening down river to something better beyond.
5 Minute Movie Guy