The Peanut Butter Falcon focuses on Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a 22 year old with Down syndrome who escapes from a retirement home in North Carolina and embarks on a quest to be trained by a wrestler named The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Along the way, he meets Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a fisherman on the run who decides, begrudgingly, to let Zak accompany him to Florida. They are both pursued by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a caregiver from the retirement home, and Duncan (John Hawkes) and Ratboy (Yelawolf), two fisherman seeking revenge after Tyler burned $12,000 worth of their equipment.
This is the best American adventure film to hit the big screen since Mud, which The Peanut Butter Falcon is already being compared to. Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz certainly borrow from Jeff Nichols masterpiece, and both films are essentially re-workings of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The Peanut Butter Falcon impacted me more than Mud though. Some of that might have to do with pacing. This film sprints along from one plot point to another without feeling rushed while incorporating gentle humor whenever possible. The material is weighty and honest but never preachy. The cinematography is lush and immersive. This is the most beautifully shot film I’ve seen so far this year. Yet if I had to give credit to only one aspect of the film for its success, it would be the acting.
Shia LaBeouf has been the butt of a lion’s share of jokes for the last decade, but it should be no surprise that he’s capable of a great performance. Anyone who bothered to watch Lawless knows his true potential, yet previews for Honey Boy suggest he’s just getting started. The revelation though is Zack Gottsagen. I hope we see a lot more of him in the future. The material he’s given requires a difficult balancing act between comedy and drama and he nails it all.
Throughout the film, Zak is on a mission, and he is a schemer. The most refreshing thing about the story is how it quickly reaches a point where Zak and Tyler are equally responsible for staying on course. They both have plenty of take-charge moments, and the film is critical of how people who claim to be accepting and open minded are surprised that Zak is capable of the acts he carries out.
The supporting cast is great too. Thomas Haden Church shines as The Saltwater Redneck, as does Bruce Dern in a small but effective role as Zak’s roommate at the retirement home. I’m also glad to see Dakota Johnson continue the post Fifty Shades winning streak that began with Bad Times at the El Royale.
I have few complaints but they include falling action that feels rushed and a couple villains who could be developed a tad more. Overall though I liked the plot and I liked that there is always a feeling that Tyler and Zak are being pursued, but the chase is not the focal point of every scene. The script prioritizes character over plot, and the result is magnificent.
It’s too early to tell if this will be my favorite film of the year, but it is likely to be the one that gave me the most joy. This is a delightful viewing experience and I cannot wait to see it again. It’s also the kind of film that will inspire people to sit down and pound out that script they’ve been thinking about writing. Creating something as outstanding as The Peanut Butter Falcon is a tall order. The fact that this got made, is finding an audience and continues to scale the box office (it reached the top ten this past weekend) should be inspiring to everyone who wants to make movies.
This is just going to be a glowing review. I am not even going to try to hide the fact that I am head over heels in love with this film in so many ways. Let’s be real: this is just going to be my love letter to The Peanut Butter Falcon. The message, the performances, the script, and the cinematography came together in a way that made this an amazing viewing experience.
Nathan has already summarized the plot, so I will save you from reading that again. However, I do want to start by discussing the message that this film is trying to get across.
The dichotomy between how the nursing home staff and how Tyler treats Zak is depicted perfectly. At the beginning, we are introduced to Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). She is a friend of Zak’s and a nursing home administrator. However, she treats him like a child. She is always wanting to help him complete simple tasks and doting on him like a young child. On the other hand, Tyler treats Zak like an adult. He encourages Zak’s dream, trains him, teaches him to swim, forces him to push himself, and in general, does not treat him with the level of sensitivity that the rest of the world seems to. It is clear that Tyler ends up genuinely caring for Zak. There is one scene in particular where Eleanor and Tyler have a discussion about how Zak should be treated that is really poignant. The script does a really good job of making you think about how you have treated people in the past. I spent a moment during the film reflecting on my past experiences and pre-conceived notions. And that is the true gift that this adventure has to offer: an opportunity for all of us to consider our own actions and decide how we should change to help those around us.
The film is also genuinely funny. Given the subject matter, it really could have gone either way. There were several laugh out loud moments throughout. Part of it was just good writing. The other part though was the comedic genius of Zack Gottsagen. His comedic timing was perfect. The chemistry between him and Shia LeBouf was amazing. The relationship on screen was very natural, and while some of the plot points might be a stretch in the real world, the friendship rang true
In general, the performances were award-worthy. I have been saying that Shia LeBouf is a good actor forever and I have finally been vindicated!! If he does not get a supporting actor nomination, you will probably be able to hear my dramatic sobs. Also, who knew that Dakota Johnson could actually act?? Her performance was authentic and realistic. And I cannot wait to see what Zack Gottsagen does next. He was truly a joy to watch on screen.
If I had to be nitpicky, there was a bit of a timeline issue, but it was minimal. This was a beautifully shot piece of art. The script was well written, it was wonderfully directed, the characters were well crafted and developed, and there was a good amount of tension created through various issues that arose. I was worried about how it was going to end but the directors made a great choice with the succinct ending they chose. This is a film that will only continue to succeed through word of mouth. Believe me when I say that this is definitely a film worth seeking out.