The Peanut Butter Falcon Review: A feel-good and fulfilling adventure
Filled with a sense of free spirit and standout performances, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a touching and heartfelt feature debut of collaborative writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz that’s easily the strongest feel-good movie of 2019.
The film follows Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down Syndrome, who wants to leave the retirement home he is forced to stay in and learn how to be a professional wrestler from his childhood hero – The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Along the way, Zak meet Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a man grieving over the loss of his brother and on the run from a rival fisherman (John Hawkes). As the two attempt to escape Tyler’s past as well as Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Zak’s caretaker, they begin to form a strong friendship and have self-discoveries as they adventure down the southern coast line.
An immense amount of credit for The Peanut Butter Falcon being as good as it is has to go to casting director Tracy Kilpatrick because this cast is absolutely perfect. The chemistry between everyone is fantastic and there’s some strong supporting performances from Bruce Dern, Dakota Johnson, and Church. LaBeouf and Gottsagen are on a completely other level here, though, and LaBeouf especially puts in one of the best performances of his career. The Peanut Butter Falcon legitimately feels like a return to form for LaBeouf and he brings such caring, complex, and genuine mindset to Tyler that’s viewers will instantly fall in love with. The bond that he develops with Zak and the way that he treats him comes off completely genuine and it makes their journey together feel meaningful to both of them. In some ways like Tyler, LaBeouf has been in search of redemption that he definitely finds here and puts in a strong enough performance to definitely be in the conversation for awards later in the year.
Gottsagen’s performance is also great as he brings an endearing level of maturity to Zak that highlights the film’s messages and themes about treating people with disabilities. Although Zak has plenty of funny moments, he’s never treated as a caricature or as a joke, but rather as a real person that has dreams, issues, and beliefs like anyone else. This realistic look at people with Zak’s condition is at the embodiment of Gottsagen’s performance and the strong writing from Nilson and Schwartz that delves into how people treat people with Down Syndrome. There’re strong conversations between Tyler and Eleanor about how Zak should be treated, and it’s handled in a way that’s great for its PG audience. It never comes off like Eleanor is fully demonized for her treating Zak the way she does, as she’s doing what she thinks is best in her situation, and Tyler shows viewers that Zak should be allowed to follow his dreams, regardless how big or small, and be supported just like anyone else.
It’s a component that, admittedly, I wish was explored with more characters, like The Salt Water Redneck, but it’s makes for such a strong topic that is rarely touched on for a younger audience. Not to mention, there’s a strong maturity and bluntness that makes Tyler and Zak’s adventure such a genuinely impactful story. The film pulls very little punches in how other people treat and see Zak and it not only adds a sense of realism that’s suitable and could even be impactful for a younger audience, but it makes Tyler and Zak’s friendship so special. It’s a level of maturity that’s rarely touched and has an emotional weight to it that viewers will feel.
All of the strong storytelling and performances also elevate the film past it’s incredibly familiar beats. It’s hard not to realize the familiarity that The Peanut Butter Falcon has to other family adventure films like it, but, like I said before, the Mark Twain styled adventure that Tyler and Zak go on and heartwarming moments they share that make the film such a sweet experience more than makes up for it familiarity. Not to mention, the film is also effective in subverting expectations with how it handles Church’s Salt Water Redneck and the death of Tyler’s brother (Jon Bernthal). Nilson and Schwartz also make up for it with some of the beautiful shots of the environment and really utilize the landscape to create an authentic Mark Twain adventure vibe.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is truly as humble and adventurous as it’s two lead characters and embodies meaningful messages that will surely stick with viewers. If you’re looking for a film that will leave you smiling and full of good vibes, The Peanut Butter Falcon needs to be on your radar. Not to mention, if you’re a fan of LaBeouf, it’s an absolute must-see as he’s truly at the top of his game.