Written and Directed by Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Thomas Haden Church, Jake Roberts, Mick Foley
An American classic retold through the eyes of a young man with Down Syndrome, The Peanut Butter Falcon should make everyone who watches it feel better. It doesn’t break new ground, but it certainly treads reverently over those well worn paths leading to the glory of the human spirit.
Tyler (LaBeouf) is a young man reeling from tragedy. He eekes out a living stealing from crab pots of a local rough Duncan (Hawkes). This leads him to a dead end with no way to make a living. He decides to make for Jupiter, Florida to see if he can get a fresh start, but not before literally burning his way out of town.
Zak (Gottsagen) is a 22 year old living in an old-folks home after his family abandons him. He’s continually endeavoring to escape and make his way to a wrestling school with run by his hero, The Salt Water Redneck (Haden Church). He is thwarted by Eleanor (Johnson) who works at the home. He keeps trying, and with the help of a friend (Dern), he finally makes his escape.
Their paths converge when Zak is discovered hiding on Tyler’s getaway boat. The two part ways soon after, but end up reunited when Tyler helps Zak out of a tough spot. From this point, the two start to bond, weaving in and out of society on their way down the coast toward their destinations.
Anyone who’s read Huckleberry Finn or seen any of myriad buddy films since the 70’s realize where this story is headed by the time the two end up together. The key for any of the stories is the chemistry of the actors involved.
The combination of LaBeouf and Gottsagen is a delight. They have real chemistry and it’s obvious they both have kind hearts, no matter the trouble that lead them into each other’s orbit. Johnson adds a light touch as someone who is chasing and eventually catches up to the boys. She’s got enough behind the eyes to let us know there’s more to her story.
LaBeouf, as tortured as he appears to be in real life, finds a way to exorcise his demons here. The feelings expressed by Tyler are genuine. When he is talking to Zak, it’s clear the conversation has a deeper resonance and applies to them both.
For his part, Gottsagen is incredibly fun and has a real feel for acting. His charisma is incredible and he shows us someone who doesn’t need sympathy, just a friend. The point where they go over the rules is just about the funniest scene I have witnessed in years.
There are other good performances. It’s great to see Jake Roberts and Mick Foley showing us the underworld of wrestling doesn’t have to be a completely scary place. Just seeing both alive and well is good enough for me.
Only Hawkes seems out of place as a violent man. He’s been a lot of things on camera. Many of them well. This role did not suit him at all.
If you have free time this weekend, give The Peanut Butter Falcon a shot. It’s on Amazon Prime and Hulu right now and the story, atmosphere and heart would do a viewer good on a hot summer night.
(**** out of *****)