The Peanut Butter Falcon, 2019.
Written and Directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz.
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, Jon Bernthal, Thomas Haden Church, Jermaine Rivers, Mick Foley, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Zak runs away from his care home to make his dream of becoming a wrestler come true.
During the early stages of their adventure, Zak repeatedly calls out to Tyler as if to tell him something. Letting his frustrations take over him, Tyler finally turns around and insists Zak say whatever he needs to say right now so they could continue the rest of their trek in silence. Shyly and politely, Zak mentions that he has Down syndrome, to which Tyler replies “I don’t give a shit”. Given his personality up until this point, it’s reasonable to assume that Tyler is simply continuing to be a selfish jerk only fixated on his own goals, but there are two edges to the statement; Tyler sees Zak as just another person, for better or worse, surrounded by a society that coddles him perhaps a little bit more than necessary.
Played by Zack Gottsagen (who really does have Down Syndrome and operates as a disability activist beyond making his debut acting performance here), Zak has no family to speak of and is forced to live inside of a nursing home where he clearly doesn’t belong. Quirky humor is present from the very beginning as his elderly companions assist him in devising plans to escape (Bruce Dern has a terrific extended cameo where he is both his usual crotchety self yet also caring) so that Zak can go on a quest to meet his idol, fictional wrestling star Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church resembling the Ultimate Warrior) and enroll in his school. Eleanor (played by Dakota Johnson) has labeled Zak a flight risk against her own wishes, always putting her best forward caring for the young man, but it’s only a matter of time before he escapes sending her on her own journey to bring him back to the facility.
All greased up and stumbling around in white underwear (the escape is rather amusing), Zak eventually crosses paths with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a rugged fisherman who has run into some trouble in an escalating rivalry between local crab trappers (led by John Hawkes). Seeing as the wrestling school is on Tyler’s way (traveling from Virginia all the way to Florida to hopefully start a new life), he decides to let Zak tag along so long as he doesn’t slow the process down. At first, Tyler is strict, no-nonsense, and even kind of mean, until a perilous situation allows him to see that Zak can hold his own and is not as hopeless as one might believe.
There are a lot of narrative annoyances within The Peanut Butter Falcon (mainly endless plot contrivances that occur all over the place, including the climax), but it’s easy to overlook considering at least 70% of the movie is the budding warm friendship depicted between Tyler and Zak. As they get to know one another, Tyler begins training Zak himself with conditioning and strength exercises, while also engaging in some questionable hobbies like teaching him how to fire a shotgun. They mosey across small rivers, build rafts to cross larger bodies of water, and generally find themselves exploring some of the quietest and beautiful sights coastline South has to offer. It’s also exquisitely photographed.
It’s not a spoiler or a surprise to anyone that Eleanor eventually comes across the pair, which allows first-time writers and directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz to insert dialogue exchanges not only about what’s best for Zak but his own independence, which may not be 100% but is certainly still higher than most people give him credit for. Of course, The Peanut Butter Falcon is also the kind of movie that can’t help somewhat turning Tyler and Eleanor into a unit, which feels completely unnecessary other than that the filmmakers want the happiest ending possible. It just, unfortunately, manufactures drama from the strangest places, whether it be the one-dimensional crab trappers keeping pursuit or group of wrestlers at the end all with different motives.
Still, for as much as the story repeatedly irked me for one reason after another, the chemistry between Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen is tender and charming. Tyler may not be the perfect guardian for this young man, but their bonding is irresistibly heartwarming. They inject even the frustrating parts of The Peanut Butter Falcon with real soul.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com