Movie Review Monday: The Peanut Butter Falcon
August surprisingly turned out to be a good month for smaller releases, and we have been impressed with several of the indie films that have hit theaters this summer. We’re continuing our trend of reviewing smaller projects into the first week of September with The Peanut Butter Falcon. The film was directed and written by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz and follows a young man with Down syndrome who escapes from the retirement home where he lives. The film stars Zack Gottsagen as the runaway Zak, and it co-stars Shia LaBeouf as the small time outlaw, Tyler. The film’s incredible cast also includes Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, and Jon Bernthal. Before its theatrical release, the film premiered at South by Southwest in March, where it received the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award.
The film begins with the character of Zak unsuccessfully attempting to escape from the retirement home in North Carolina where he is required to live. One of the workers, Eleanor, cares for Zak and empathizes with him, but she still labels him as a flight risk. Zak spends most of his time watching videos of his professional wrestling hero, the Saltwater Redneck, and he longs to attend his wrestling school. Meanwhile, Tyler is struggling after the loss of his brother, and he finds himself unable to sell stolen crabs at the local crab shack due to his lack of a license. Zak manages to escape that night with the help of his roommate, and by the following morning, he hides himself unknowingly in Tyler’s boat. Tyler has to make a quick escape after he burns $12,000 worth of equipment on the docks. He is pursued by two local fishermen, Duncan and Ratboy, which is when he discovers Zak hidden away on the boat. While initially Tyler intends to leave Zak behind, he soon finds himself stuck on the road with him. Tyler promises to help Zak get to the wrestling school on his escape to Florida, and through that journey, a memorable friendship is formed.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a heartwarming story and can easily be labeled as one of the best feel-good movies of the year. The directors have labeled it as a type of modern retelling of Huckleberry Finn, and the film has that quality to it. The adventure between the two leads and their ensuing friendship does justice to the old stories from Mark Twain, and they revitalize the heart of those books. The setting is a perfect homage to the source material as well as a convincing setting for these events to occur. The swampy atmosphere adds to the whimsical nature of the adventure, and it provides for some truly breathtaking shots. There are a lot of elements from the cinematography to the music that are incorporated well to convey the tone of the film.
While these choices make the film appealing, it is the characters and the actors portraying them that make this movie so enjoyable. Newcomer Zack Gottsagen brings so much heart to Zak’s journey to become a wrestler, and his chemistry with Shia LaBeouf is unparalleled. LaBeouf also shines in what could be considered one of his best performances to date, fully embracing Tyler’s transformation from disinterested and distant bystander to an invested and supportive friend. Tyler comes to care deeply for Zak throughout their adventure, and that mutual love and respect is felt in every scene. Both leads hit on the heartwarming and hilarious moments the script requires, and the result is an adventure that you hate to see end. The supporting cast also brings out the best in the story, and Dakota Johnson is particularly good as the compassionate caretaker, Eleanor.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a charming adventure that has a lot to say about the value and capabilities of every type of person. I have read several comments about jumps in logic throughout the story, especially in regards to the character of Eleanor, but these characters and their emotional connection leave you completely unconcerned with any storytelling missteps. The bond between the characters of Zak and Tyler override everything else, and the end result is a sweet story of two people bonding on their road to freedom. It contains some eye-opening conversations and hilarious moments, and all of these aspects make The Peanut Butter Falcon a movie worth watching in theaters.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.