The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

25 Oct

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a sweet film—very sweet and funny and likable. Sometimes, it’s a little too sweet to the point of reaching “corny” levels. But darn it, there were too many moments during which I had a smile on my face.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon,” written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, is reminiscent of a Mark Twain story, as two misunderstood outsiders embark on a cross-country journey to find something meaningful in life (and part of that journey takes place on a raft on the open sea). In this case, we have Zak and Tyler, two strangers who join together and become close friends along the way.

Zak is a Down Syndrome patient (and is played by Zack Gottsagen, who himself has Down Syndrome). He has been abandoned by his family and left at an old folks’ home because there’s nowhere else for him to go. He’s obsessed with an old videotape which features a pro wrestler, known as the Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), and he escapes his prison to find him. He has no money, no clothes, and no master plan of his own—he simply wants to find his way down to the Saltwater Redneck’s camp where he can pursue his dream of being a pro wrestler.

Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a rebellious, troublemaking fisherman who signs his own death warrant when he messes with the wrong people, thus putting himself on the run. Zak stows away on his boat during the getaway, and at first, Tyler doesn’t want anything to do with him. But soon enough, his good heart shows as he just can’t leave this guy alone and promises to take him where he wants to go.

What begins as an interesting partnership turns into a sweet friendship as it becomes clear that Tyler may be the only person Zak has ever encountered who sees what Zak CAN do rather than what his disability limits him to. And as it turns out, Zak isn’t as helpless as he would appear. The scenes with these two together are wonderful—the two actors play brilliantly off each other, the escalation of the friendship feels natural, and they pretty much make the movie as special as critics have made it out to be. (I happily jump aboard that train.)

The smiles on my face didn’t even fade when Zak’s caregiver, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), inevitably finds the two and questions Zak’s safety in Tyler’s company. But even she can’t deny there’s more to Zak than meets the eye as well (particularly in a scene that got the biggest laugh in the theater in which I first saw the film), and she becomes part of this new family. For a character like this, that was a refreshing take.

I will revisit this film time and time again just to revisit the lovely chemistry between these characters.

What didn’t quite work for me was the ending. It’s a little too neat without much of a satisfying payoff, and for a film like this, you need that final moment that will make you want to immediately tell your friends to go see this movie. After seeing it the first time, I merely mustered a “yeah it was good” to my friends.

I’m still giving “The Peanut Butter Falcon” 3 1/2 stars rather than 3 because Gottsagen, LaBeouf, and Johnson make the movie work wonders.

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