Review: "The Peanut Butter Falcon"
It is rare in this day and age of big blockbuster tent pole films to find a film that is simple, intimate and resonates with the viewer on a personal level. Peanut Butter Falcon is just that film in a rare time. It feels like films that came in the 80s and 90s or even that of a Mark Twain story. Despite it feeling overly familiar at times, the power of script, performances and direction all make it undeniably genuine and sweet. It is a true breath of fresh air, an earnest story of friendship and redemption.
The plot follows Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) as a bit of a lost soul after a traumatic accident in his past leading him down a troubled path that gets him in deep with the wrong people causing him to go on the run. Meanwhile, Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a 22-year-old with down syndrome lives in a retirement home and under the care of Eleanor (Dakota Johnson.) He has dreams becoming a professional wrestler after obsessively watching tapes of his hero, Salt Water Redneck. His dreams leads him to a failed escape attempt only to then be aided by his elderly roommate the following night. On the run from Eleanor, who has been tasked with finding him, Zak meets Tyler who is very resistant to having a travel buddy at first. Tyler permits Zak to tag along after he sees younger children bullying him and the two begin to build a friendship that enriches both of their lives at a time that is desperately needed for both of them. Tyler makes a promise to Zak to accompany him to Salt Water Redneck's wrestling school and the two embark on a journey to find the place with Eleanor on their trail as well as the people that Tyler stole from.
Shia LaBeouf does a great job with the character of Tyler and his chemistry alongside Zack Gottsagen really help propel the film. The way their relationship develops and how they both help each other is so deeply endearing and sweet its nearly impossible to not smile or laugh at the two of them. LaBeouf's Tyler is much more troubled then Zak, but even after seeing him as a thief in the opening sequence, you know there is much more depth there due to his talent. The writer and director, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, both wrote Zak's character with Zack Gottsagen in mind for the role after they saw him in a 2014 documentary called Becoming Bulletproof. That idea, while frowned upon by some studios in the big picture, helped add so much more sincerity to an already terrific film. Gottsagen, is the heart of the film, incredibly likable in his earnestness and pure unadulterated joy. Dakota Johnson's Eleanor doesn't have as much to work with as LaBeouf and Gottsagen, but her character has a true affection toward Zak and her scenes in which she battles with Tyler over what is or isn't best for Zak is griping. Despite her character not being fleshed out, she helps move the plot a bit and doesn't fall into usual pit stops.
While the performances delivered by LaBeouf, Gottsagen and Johnson all are very noteworthy, the direction and script are just as strong. Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz wrote very real characters and paced the film beautiful. It never hit a lull or felt like it was going on for too long. Despite the film feeling very familiar, their talent as writers and filmmakers allowed it to still feel fresh and even carry a level of unpredictability. The two of them framed together a journey for an odd couple buddy road trip that also has plenty of levity and heart. At a certain point in the film, LeBeouf's Tyler persuades Zak not to be a villainous wrestler when he makes it as it isn't true to his heart, as Zak is the hero. To which Zak then poses the question back to Tyler, are you a good guy? Through all the bad that Tyler had committed when he was lost, the film poses that everyone has good in them which is a powerful message and an even better scene brilliantly played by the actors and written beautifully. It is also a beautifully shot film that undoubtedly had Huckleberry Finn in mind as some of the scenes aboard the makeshift raft will draw parallels.