The Peanut Butter Falcon
2019, PG-13, 93 min. Directed by Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Yelawolf, Wayne DeHart, Jake Roberts, Mick Foley.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 9, 2019
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. Despite the film’s obviousness and surface-deep emotions, its heartwarming glow makes this an easy-to-like project. Upon its debut at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival last March, it was honored with the competition’s Audience Award. Whether this indicator of popular affection will be enough to hoist the film past its terrible title and the stench of actor Shia LaBeouf’s public misdeeds and become one of the feel-good movies of the year remains to be seen.
Zak (Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, escapes from the nursing home where he resides due to the inability of his family and the state to better provide for his needs. On the lam wearing nothing but his tighty-whities (making him appear more infantile than he is), Zak by chance runs into another fugitive, Tyler (LaBeouf), a crab fisherman who steals from cages belonging to some local crabbers (Hawkes and Yelawolf), and then sets fire to them. Tyler skips out after literally burning his bridges, and along his journey we also observe some flashbacks to his deceased brother (Bernthal), who died in a car Tyler was driving. Initially, Tyler views Zak as an unnecessary burden to his plan to hightail it to Florida and start life over. Yet, with time, Zak’s tenacity and optimism win over Tyler’s grumpy survivor’s instincts, and Tyler promises to accompany Zak to his desired destination: the training camp of a wrestler known as the Salt Water Redneck (Church). The pair stealthily travel through the Outer Banks of North Carolina, never questioning that the larger-than-life wrestler whom Zak has lionized after multiple viewings of a scratchy old videotape is the real deal. There’s nothing bogus about wrestling, right?
Along their journey, the two men bond. Tyler teaches Zak to swim and catch fish, drink alcohol and stay undercover, developing brotherly companionship and loyalty as time passes. Eleanor (Johnson), the kind-hearted nursing-home employee tasked with finding and returning Zak, eventually catches up with the duo. The threesome clicks and form something of a family unit. The Lost Boys have found their Wendy.
First-time feature film writers and directors, Tyler Nilson (who shares the same first name as the leading character) and Michael Schwartz, compensate for the unoriginality of this Adventures of Huckleberry Finn-styled narrative with a wide-open sense of authenticity. LaBeouf again demonstrates the agility that characterizes his acting and allows him to acrobatically teeter between tragedy and comedy. Johnson has little to do other than serve as the female superego, but the facial expressiveness that made her such a good choice as the heroine of the Fifty Shades movies, beams as well here. Other actors such as Bruce Dern and Thomas Haden Church also turn in flavorful performances. Additionally, the North Carolina coastline glows and beckons in the gorgeous landscape cinematography of Nigel Bluck.
While watching the movie, I jotted in my notes that The Peanut Butter Falcon is like a Make a Wish movie (something like that documentary from a few years ago in which all of San Francisco comes out to indulge a dying kid’s Batman fantasy). I’d stick with that description if only one of the characters hadn’t mouthed the same thoughts in the film’s closing moments. So, in conclusion, I’ll return to my former observation about the film’s obviousness. The Peanut Butter Falcon may lack depth and subtlety, but you can always feel the beat of its heart.
Read our interview with directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, and star Zack Gottsagen, at austinchronicle.com/screens.
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The Peanut Butter Falcon, Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz, Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Yelawolf, Wayne DeHart, Jake Roberts, Mick Foley