Charming and genuine in every scene, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” offers a little something for everyone. Reading the synopsis, may seem like the story is out to gather some pats on the back for being so woke, but in fact, the performances are from a stunningly talented cast with excellent writing and direction that never feels anything but heartfelt and real.
Zak has dreams of following in the footsteps of his idol, the bigger than life professional wrestler known as ‘The Salt Water Red-Neck’ (Thomas Haden Church). Living in a retirement home and being born with Down Syndrome makes the likelihood of attaining his dream very unlikely. Motivated by his roommate (Bruce Dern), Zak escapes with dreams of playing the villain in the wrestling world. A chance encounter teams him up with outlaw Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), and in hot pursuit is his case worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) determined to bring him back, even when she knows it’s not the best place for him.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is so much more than the colorful title. It’s a film about redemption, finding courage, friendship, the complexities of life, and how people can rise to the occasion, even those who may not seem like they have much to offer. I know, it seems too sweet and moppy. I promise, there is no crying and need of tissues. It’s the right kind of charm and storytelling from writer directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz whom seem to get everything right.
Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a fearless young man born with Down Syndrome who realizes he’s not living his best life. He’s too young to be in an assisted living facility. Problem is, he’s got no one. No family, and his best friend appears to be a worn out VHS tape of a wrestler who offers the chance to learn the art of wrestling at a special school. Gottsagen’s acting is both endearing, and wholly real.
The film is not a depiction nor contrived to garner sympathy as one might assume. It also avoids the cliche. Rather, “Peanut Butter Falcon” is an honest depiction which in earnest will have you cheering for success.
Mention to a friend that Shia LaBeouf is in “Peanut Butter” and you might get an eye roll. That’s because too many think of him in big action flicks like “Transformers” and not indie 5 star films like “American Honey” (another film he was absolutely superb in and not widely seen). In the opening scenes LaBeouf’s character, Tyler, is a not so pleasant man. He’s got issues, like stealing and arson. The character is unlikable, but so real and performed with conscientious nuance. He’s hard, no nonsense, and out for himself. Not someone you want to watch degrade and be rude to the handicap man. But there is a reason here and it’s part of what makes this a truly brilliant piece for LeBeouf.
Another surprising performance comes from Thomas Haden Church as The Salt Water Red Neck. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but definitely has a key performance that was well casted and again played with sincerity. Zak is getting creamed in the ring, and in part it’s Red Neck’s fault, and Church has a scene where he’s beside himself. Does he let it go on, or does the show go on? It’s moments like this the fill the film from a lot of experienced actors including Bruce Dern, and William Hawkes who also has very little screen time but manages, as always, to take what he has and deliver.
All around notable performances from an extremely well casted, well directed, and uniquely charming film. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” avoids cliche and instead focuses on what matters, a real story about people who want to be more. With special attention spent on creating characters that are well-rounded with as many flaws as attributes, the writer and director duo of Nilson and Schwartz have created a real gem of a film. The film has a stand out performance from Zak Gottsagen who is more than someone with Down Syndrome, but proves to be a talented actor alongside LeBeauf who gives one of his best performances to date. Film opens on limited screens but well worth your effort to see.