THE STORY – After running away from a residential nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler, a man who has Down syndrome befriends an outlaw who becomes his coach and ally.
THE CAST – Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal & Thomas Haden Church
THE TEAM – Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz (Directors/Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 98 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
A film does not necessarily have to change the world, or be the most entertaining or make a billion dollars at the box office to have a profound impact on you. Every year, there are small independent movies that people never hear about, which come and go without notice. One of those might be “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” a tiny, heartwarming, well-acted and scripted film with terrific performances from the entire cast. However, it shouldn’t be. In an age where everything feels manufactured in a lab to generate box office success or is finding new ways to offend the cinema-going audience, this particular independent film has neither on its mind. All it wants to do is tell its story about family, friendship, heroes and above all, heart.
Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a crabber boatman along the outer banks of North Carolina, whose life is a mess as he gets caught up in a rivalry with Duncan (John Hawkes), after burning his supply for the next fishing season. On the run from the law and Duncan, Tyler comes across Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a harmless young man with down syndrome who has recently escaped from a state-mandated nursing home and is also on the run from his nurse Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). While the two may be at odds at first, they are both searching for a new future as they set course by boat and land for Florida. Along the way, they will come to trust one another and become a family, while Tyler helps Zack to achieve his dream of becoming a professional wrestler (the moniker he gives himself is “The Peanut Butter Falcon”) by attending a wrestling school run by The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church).
The world is plagued by so much negativity. Which is why it is such a breath of fresh air to receive a movie like “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” It contains fully fleshed out characters who are presented with real stakes which challenge their hopes and dreams. It doesn’t over-dramatize or cheapen its story for the sake of a “cool moment,” or an awards campaign. It’s simple. It’s textured. It’s refined. And it works. This is in large part due to the cast, which includes Shia LaBeouf, playing a deeply troubled but likable young man (much like the real-life star himself), who is trying to outrun his grief-stricken past. Zack Gottsagen (who actually has down syndrome) is a true revelation and as profiled by some already will no doubt serve as an inspiration to others out there dreaming of coming to Hollywood. Knowing this real-life context for the film’s two stars helps to play into the movie’s themes as well. It speaks to achieving one’s dreams and searching for a family, who loves and supports you for who you are. The world may be cruel and it may feel limiting but “The Peanut Butter Falcon’s” inspiring message is enough to melt even the most cynical of hearts. When you throw in other likable stars such as Dakota Johnson (who’s caring nurse Eleanor plays against the stereotypical “Nurse Ratched” type), Jon Bernthal (only shown in flashback as Tyler’s older brother) and even a frightening John Hawkes (who’s character we detest but we still enjoy due to his terrific acting ability), “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is in a “can’t lose” situation that not many films seem to find themselves in nowadays.
Some may fault the film for being simplistic and following a traditional storytelling formula, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Even the WWE backyard-style ending (containing real-life retired wrestlers Mick Foley and Jake “The Snake” Roberts), wasn’t enough to make me roll my eyes at this movie. Not once.
Is it fair to say that if you don’t like “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” you don’t have a heart? Not really. But it’s pretty darn close. When you cast the right actors, hammer out the right story and tell it well enough with a good sense of pacing, an effective script, and a unique setting, you can achieve the recipe for a good movie. No overloaded blockbuster CGI or awards bait required. It doesn’t require much of its audience to get invested in its story and characters and the emotional payoff is incredibly one-sided when you factor in how refreshing, good-hearted, touching and funny this movie is. Don’t let it fall by the wayside. Seek out “The Peanut Butter Falcon.”
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Doesn’t have a negative bone in its body. So wholesome, endearing, sweet, touching and funny with a wonderful cast.
THE OSCARS – None