The Peanut Butter Falcon is an adventure story set in the world of a modern Mark Twain that begins when Zak, a young man with Down syndrome, runs away from the nursing home where he lives to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler by attending the wrestling school The Salt Water Redneck.
In "The Peanut Butter Falcon," co-written and co-directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, Zac (Zack Gottsagen) is a man with Down Syndrome who has been placed in a nursing home by the state since he has no family and no resources. He has befriended every elderly resident, as well as Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a kindly young woman who works at the facility. Zac is a huge wrestling fan and all day, every day he watches an ancient video tape put out by a wrestler named Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), whom Zac idolizes. Zac's goal is to get to Salt Water Redneck's wrestling school, the one advertised in the video. And so Zac tries to escape. Repeatedly. Eleanor is forced to label Zac a "flight risk." Zac rooms with Carl (Bruce Dern), who complains about having to watch the same wrestling video all day but sympathizes with Zac's desire to bust loose. One night, Carl helps Zac bend back the iron bars on the window, suggests Zac grease himself up with hand soap, and watches his roommate flee into the night, barefoot and wearing just his underwear.
Zac takes shelter under a tarp on a rusty boat. This boat belongs to Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a crab fisherman embroiled in a quickly escalating war with a rival named Duncan (John Hawkes). Tyler discovers his "stowaway" while being chased by Duncan through the complicated tributaries of North Carolina's Outer Banks. At the same time, Eleanor searches for Zac before her supervisor orders him to be put into a state hospital with a terrible reputation.
After a bumpy beginning, Tyler and Zac bond. Zac tells Tyler his mission is to get to Salt Water Redneck's wrestling school, and Tyler, on his way to Florida, decides to help. They set off on foot through a swampy landscape. By the time Eleanor catches up with them, they have built a raft with lumber given to them by a blind backwoods preacher. After some arguments, she is convinced—by a smitten Tyler—to join them on their outlaw journey. The trio float down the coastline, unmoored from the trials and stresses of their respective worlds, like Huck and Jim floating down the Mississippi River.
If all of this sounds too sentimental to be believed, it isn't. "Peanut Butter Falcon" is a buddy movie, but it has the quality of a fable, even down to how it's shot by cinematographer Nigel Bluck. The film takes place in a very specific locale. You can smell the salt and pollen and mold in the air. The waves, cornfields, marshes, crab pots ... even the condition of Tyler's boat—comes from reality, not someone's idea of reality. Bluegrass, country songs, gospel hymns punctuate the narrative. It's a fable, but a fable grounded in details, the here-and-now. Except for the "names," the film seems to be populated by many non-professional actors, or at least people who actually live in the area. This makes a huge difference. Zac lives in the real world. Unlike so many disabled characters in film, Zac is not utilized as a symbol, a metaphor, or created to be "inspirational." He's the central figure, he's outspoken and strong, funny and vulnerable. He's never had a friend before. He's always wanted to be "bro dawgs" with someone. Watching the relationship develop with Tyler is one of the film's many pleasures.
Some of the adventures work better than others. Some of it feels contrived. But these are nitpicks in the face of what "The Peanut Butter Falcon" accomplishes. Both LaBeouf and Johnson (and later, Church) approach their roles with ease and simplicity, highlighting Gottsagen (who has studied acting since he was a child) beautifully. Johnson's irrepressible sense of humor serves her well as an actress (even in the "Fifty Shades of Grey" franchise), and watching her react to LaBeouf's initial flirtation—trying to maintain her boundaries all while she is drawn into his humorous rat-a-tat—is just a small example of what this film—and its cast—does really well. Church's eventual appearance as The Salt Water Redneck does not occur as planned. Nothing really does.
Sheila O'Malley, 9th August 2019, Roger Ebert.com.
A cosy buddy flick meandering along the waterways of North Carolina, The Peanut Butter Falcon isn’t claiming any crusading record for representation, but it quietly pushes the envelope anyway. Zack Gottsagen, in the leading role, has Down’s syndrome, and while there are plenty of actors worldwide with the condition, few have starred in such a sleeper-hit success story.
Directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, essentially giving us a modern retelling of Huckleberry Finn, built their project around Gottsagen’s character, Zak, who slips away at the start from confinement in an assisted living facility – where he’s surrounded by residents four times his age – and stows away on a fishing boat.
It’s not a case of Gottsagen playing himself – in fact, at 34, he’s 12 years older in real life than his character. The directors had to resist financial incentives to recast him with a name actor, though, in a post-watershed climate where it’s no longer good enough for our Eddie Redmaynes or Dustin Hoffmans to embody disability on screen.
Playing the film’s rough equivalent of Rain Man’s Tom Cruise figure is a compelling Shia LaBeouf, who’s Tyler, a down-and-out fisherman, emotionally bruised after his brother’s death, who steals the boat that Zak has smuggled aboard. When they get to shore, he initially wants rid of Zak, but starts to feel responsible for him in the way of these things. And when Zak’s carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) catches up with them, a tender familial dynamic takes root.
The reinvention of LaBeouf, in progress since Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, continues apace, with his writing-starring role in the autobiographical Honey Boy on the way. His grittily assured performance deepens the film one scene at a time, and the blossoming bromance with the wrestling-obsessed Zak plucks undeniably at the heartstrings. Johnson, too, with her sly timing and understanding of boys being boys, provides regular reality checks without getting in the way of the fun.
When the film looks ahead to Zak’s future, it gets more limited, and a little hand-holdy. There’s not much in its sights beyond a vague dream of getting to Florida, but first there’s a raucous staged wrestling match at the end, which the other characters, aiming to make Zak’s wildest dreams come true, conspire to set up.
If anyone could make this pay-off work, it’s Thomas Haden Church, who lends beautifully crusty support as Clint, aka the Salt Water Redneck, a retired champ living out of a trailer, who takes Zak (stage name: the Peanut Butter Falcon) under his wing. Even so, this part of the film has the feel of something cooked up in an indie screenwriting workshop, like many a Little Miss Sunshine breakout smash before it.
While this finale has a punchline that’s wholly of Zak’s making – it would be worrying if it didn’t – it takes a step into crowd-pleasing fantasy when the film’s strong suit is emotional truth. The Peanut Butter Falcon gets two cheers, nonetheless, for its redemptive warmth and a troupe of actors unfailingly bringing out the best in each other.
Tim Robey, The Telegraph,
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Total Number of Responses: 20
Film Score (0-5): 4.75
We have had a lot of fun and challenges putting on the last six films of the season via streaming. Your support throughout has been much appreciated and is again reflected in the notes below.
Your committee is currently engaged in choosing the films for next season. Typically we are discussing what the steaming alternative is if we are unable to present the first part of the season at the Borough Hall. One of the first challenges will be, which of our final selection of films, distributors are prepared to grant us streaming rights. As you are all aware we were unable to present the last two films that we had originally chosen and also one of the alternatives.
Keep your eyes out for the newsletter which will bring you the up to date positon. We look forward to seeing you all in person at some point I hope in the not too distant future.
The Peanut Butter Falcon had 102 of viewing from start to finish.
Those of you that commented (25) delivered a score of 4.75 and many nice comments.
All are below.
“Thank you for putting the films online since lockdown. We have managed to watch quite a few of them and particularly loved The Peanut Butter Falcon - an Outstanding from me!”
“Well, if we needed something heart-warming in these strangely difficult times, this was it. Story of optimism despite circumstances and the belief of good in people. Great, positive take on Down's as well. Didn't think it was just a buddy pair feel good film, but how aspects of cruelty (retard and the attempt to place Zack in a home with addicts) can be pushed away with generosity and some directness. Whole m felt like it was held together by a classical literature structure; a journey to a good time, despite the harshness on the way. LaBeouf is utterly believable and the role seemed to open him to new possibilities; Gottsagen bring an deep sincerity and their relationship which is rare to witness in modern films. Once or twice the transpiring events appeared to be really happening. While I liked Johnson's part why did she appear never to have a hair out of place? Could film have had an extended graceful ending? So what? Thanks for showing this to finish an eclectic and thoroughly high quality season”.
“Loved this film, the actors were brilliant, Zac played his part of a wanna be wrestler with great conviction, I don't think I've ever seen a film with a Down Syndrome person taking the lead role, more of them please, they have a lot to say! I also liked the relationship between Tyler and Zac, do we spend too much time mollycoddling disabled people, could all learn a little bit from them. Well done GFS for putting on such a finale (although it wasn't the one first thought of)”
“For all that this movie follows an obvious path and that the ending is visible from the start, it does so with sufficient quirky panache that you don't mind that your emotional buttons are being pushed in an entirely predictable manner. The players are excellent; Gottsagen absolutely revelatory, Johnson believable and LaBeouf nicely nuanced for an actor you might not have expected that from. Nice turn from Bruce Dern as his standard oddball curmudgeon. The scenery is gently, scruffily lovely and the outcome satisfying. Lovely film to finish on GFS. Here's to next season!”
“A lovely heart-warming film. Highlighted the problems of appropriate care for downs people, probably worse in USA. Some great acting”.
“What a lovely and heartwarming film. Made me feel homesick for summer sounds of cicadas and crickets. Homesick for the Outer Banks of North Caroline, holiday location of my childhood and young adulthood. Nothing cheesy about the story or the acting. Excellent end to the season, although I'm very sad the season is now over. These films have kept me going - something to look forward to in this Lockdown Life. I am so grateful that you were able to figure out how to stream the films. Thanks again. Will miss you all. :(“
“I had no issues at all. Smooth as can be. A good road trip redemption story. The villain is a bit generic. Zack Gottsagen absolutely steals the show!”
“Many thanks for fixing up the home viewings and showing another range of good movies this season. Hope you all have a relaxing time over the next few months”.
“Enjoyable end of season film. Good performances and fun to see Bruce Dern and Thomas Haden Church in surprise cameos”.
“An uplifting film to end the season”.
“What a lovely film to end the season! So sensitive, heartwarming and thoroughly enjoyable! Thank you. Looking forward to resuming as and when possible”.
“Hi there, just wanted to say, thanks to you all who work behind the scenes to make the last few months of film watching possible. It’s a great credit to you all, thanks for embracing technology which has enabled us to watch the films in the comfort of our own homes. I love the conviviality of the actual film night, but this has been a great compromise. Thank you all”.
“Hopefully a time will come when no-one feels the need to make a film like this”.
“Enjoyable and heartwarming with an upbeat message that you can be who you want to be. The three main characters made a quirky trio without it getting too clichéd or too sentimental”.