The Peanut Butter Falcon is written directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. It stars Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson and Zack Gottsagen.
This film tells the story of Zack (Gottsagen), a boy with downs syndrome, who has dreams of becoming a professional wrestler. He lives in an old people’s home and is overseen by the kind-hearted Eleanor (Johnson) who always tries to protect him.
One night, with the help of his friend (played by Bruce Dern), Zack escapes into the serine countryside of North Carolina without a clue where to go. On the road, he meets Tyler (LaBeouf) a drifter who works in illegal fishing. They bond over a failed attempt to steal crabs from the local crab shack, they are then pursued by miscreants Duncan and ‘Ratboy’.
They flee and set out on a journey through the swamps and lakes to find the fabled wresting school of Zack’s dreams.
LaBeouf as Tyler is a refreshing turn. Up until this point, he was known to perform in big-budget blockbusters. However, in recent years, he has dramatically changed his image and has quickly established himself as an ‘indie darling’.
Tyler is shifty at first, but his rough exterior dissolves to reveal a caring soul who would do anything to protect Zack. He is not the best role model; getting them into precarious situations at times, but he teaches Zack to survive and have a good time. Tyler even becomes to rely on Zack at times.
This is the best performance I’ve seen from him in a long time. His tender performance here shows what a dramatic presence LaBeouf has and injects some humour which is both amusing and endearing. Like Tyler, he can explore a new type of performance which we haven’t seen before.
Johnson as Eleanor is kind and sweet, someone who provides Zack with comfort within the home. It isn’t until he escapes that Eleanor finds herself in hot water and has to find him fast.
At the start, she seemed unsettled in her performance but when she meets Tyler and Zack in the swamps, she relaxes into the role and gives sarcastic but sweet barbs that help her get into the performance. These moments of wit work well but there is something odd about it.
Nothing is wrong here, but if the film focused on the sole relationship between Tyler and Zack, I would have been fine with that. She doesn’t force her way into the relationship but if she wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have noticed.
No offence to Johnson, Eleanor is a sweet character and works well within the overarching story, but putting her into the boys’ friendship is a little ill-fitting. She is a talented actress, but it was her presence felt a little forced.
Gottsagen carries almost the entire film. He is certainly an actor with potential. In this film, he conveys a range of emotions and a real friendship with LaBeouf which is represented faultlessly. He’s a breakout star and I hope he gets more work from this performance.
Gottsagen is also very funny, his comedic timing is impeccable and makes the relationship blossom realistically. When the pair discuss the future and their situation it’s very poignant. When the film gets too sickly sweet, Zack brings it back with a witty remark or humorous physical moment. He made me laugh, think and spoke to me so much, that it’s the best performance of the year.
The direction and cinematography are fantastic! Nilson and Schwartz bring the cast together in an intimate way. As LaBeouf and the cast have stated in interviews, it was a real family affair. That sentiment couldn’t be truer and made for a better film.
The shots of the North Carolina countryside by Nigel Bluck are beautiful, showcasing the beauty of rural America. The shots of the sunset and rainy landscapes are wonderful.
The music, both the score and songs used, are reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and helps the story and the photography rise above their original station.
It was surprising to see actual wrestlers’ cameo in the film. Thomas Haden Church has a small but important role in this film and I didn’t notice it was him. I was pleased when I saw his name in the credits.
There is a love story and, as much as I liked the acting, this facet of the film felt rushed and quite forced. I could see it coming from miles and was hoping it wouldn’t happen. It doesn’t get in the way of the overall message, but it didn’t belong in the film.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a heartfelt and sweet indie film. The relationship between LaBeouf and Gottsagen is tender and relatable and is the film’s backbone. It reminded me a lot of my friendships past and present and, as a very sentimental person, I was happy with it.
The direction, music and especially the cinematography were great for this type of film – maybe it’s just my love of bluegrass and country – and help set the scene for the story. The way it also portrayed downs syndrome was realistic and positive in here. As someone with disabilities, I was very happy with it.
I was also surprised by how impactful the story was. LaBeouf is wonderful and Gottsagen a rising star in one gem of a film.
Go seek it out if you can, you won’t regret it!