It feels like movies have been veering into darker and darker territory for a while now. James Bond is gritty, no-nonsense, and exceptionally brutal. The DCEU has pushed towards darker material before finding that a more balanced touch, or in some cases a more comedic one, can yield better results. Dark and gritty reboots seem to be the way to describe half of the films populating cinemas today. Darkness is not always the answer, however, and sometimes something that aims to show us the brighter side is needed.
Why do I bring up the darkness that seems to hang over so many movies these days? Frankly, because The Peanut Butter Falcon is the antithesis to all of those movies. This movie is a joy. Having a bad day? Go see this movie. Want something that gives you all the good feels? I’ve got a movie for you. Want to cure cancer? Easy there, it is still just a movie. A movie with a lot of heart, but a movie nonetheless.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Director: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Release Date: August 9, 2019
The Peanut Butter Falcon is the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a man with Downs Syndrome, who runs away from the nursing home where he is living to become a professional wrestler. Along the way, he runs into Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a small-time criminal, who is running away from some unfriendly characters he stole from. Together they embark on a journey down the river towards Ayden, North Carolina where Zak intends to enroll in the wrestling school run by his hero, The Salt-Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). The nursing home charges Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) with pursuing the errant Zak and bringing him back.
“Two bandits on the run.” That’s how one of the characters describes them as they set out on their journey. If this sounds a bit like Huck Finn then congratulations you know your literature or you were forced to read it in school. Either way, this movie wears its influences on its sleeve. The journey that Zak and Tyler go on is easily the best part of the film. You believe in the chemistry between these two characters and root for them. Tyler’s hesitance to allow Zak to travel with him develops into a warm and caring friendship that borders on brotherhood.
Shia LaBeouf really brings it for this role. This might be the best he has ever been. LaBeouf shows that despite Tyler’s grungy, tough exterior he is a good person even if he has done some questionable things. No one sees that better than Zak who is easily the standout of the feature. Zack Gottsagen is the most charming and involving thing about this film and that’s really saying something. How can you not root for this guy? He’s out to fulfill his dream and he’s so invested in it that it makes anyone willing to give him a chance believe that he can do it.
Not only is his character trying to achieve his dreams but this entire movie came from the directors meeting Zack Gottsagen years ago and he expressed his desire to become an actor. They were aware that not many roles are traditionally written for people with Zack’s condition, but when he said that they should write a movie for him, they were inspired to do just that. One of the best things to come out of this relationship is that Tyler doesn’t treat Zak any differently than he would anyone else and it is so refreshing to have these characters communicating as equals, instead of talking down to someone with a disability. Tyler even goes as far to call others out when they talk to Zak as if he were a child. Zak is an adult capable of making his own decisions and chasing what he wants out of life and that’s more than some people can say. This duo is so much fun to watch. I had a smile plastered across my face for the majority of the runtime.
The duo cross paths with Eleanor, out searching for Zak, who is trying to do what she believes is best for him by returning him to a place that can look after him. Dakota Johnson is a nice compliment to the duo as she is forced to join their pilgrimage down the river. Eleanor has some nice character development along the way and she feels like the missing piece they didn’t know they needed. She wants what is best for Zak but comes to question what that really is. This might be Johnson’s best work that I’ve seen so far as well. John Hawkes is given the somewhat thankless role of being the bad guy, Duncan, who Tyler stole from and is chasing him all over land and sea. Hawkes is a fantastic actor and does an admirable job with what he is given, but he seems wasted given the talent. Thomas Haden Church shows up as the over-the-hill-but-good-hearted Salt-Water Redneck. There are also some supporting roles filled out all too briefly by Bruce Dern, who is Zak’s supportive roommate at the nursing home, Jon Bernthal playing Tyler’s brother, Mark, and a few fun cameos that some wrestling fans may notice.
The directors and co-writing team of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have hit it out of the park for their first big feature release. The duo has mostly tackled shorts and documentaries before now, but what they have achieved here is fantastic. The scenery of the Outer Banks, with Savannah, Georgia filling in for it, is gorgeous. Everything makes you feel like you are on the raft alongside them that you could put your toes in the water as you drift down the river.
The Peanut Butter Falcon might be one of the most heartwarming films I’ve seen in a long time. There is so much to love about this film and it has a great message. The only time it stumbles is towards the end. The last act of the movie slows down a bit and makes you miss the pure excitement that made up the journey up until this point. Despite this stumble, the film maintains a good pace and an undeniable sense of joy with the story and characters. This is destined to be one of those movies you pop in when you just want a movie that’ll lift your spirits. The Peanut Butter Falcon succeeds in its goal to tell a good-natured and engaging story about the family you choose.