The Peanut Butter Falcon is the first feature film from writer-director Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson brims with an infectious sense of adventure impossible not to be swept up in
Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a restless 22-year-old with Down’s Syndrome, is frustrated by the slow pace of life at the nursing home in which he resides.
Itching for some excitement, he dreams of becoming a pro wrestler, obsessively re-watching a worn-out VHS tape of his favourite Lycra-clad hero, The Salt Water Redneck.
Hatching a plan to meet his idol, Zak makes a break from his geriatric prison, with his worried carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) in hot pursuit.
Meanwhile, struggling fisherman Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is on a mission of his own – to escape the clutches of a pair of angry crabbers after unwisely messing with their traps.
As fate brings these two accidental fugitives together, so begins the start of an epic journey and profound friendship, that will change both of their lives forever.
“I can’t be a hero because I have down syndrome,” says Zak. But despite it revolving around a psychically challenged individual, the film focuses more on the human aspect.
Thankfully, the movie is not chest-thumping nor is it overly sentimental. Directors Schwartz and Nilson choose a very feel-good tone which works effectively.
The unlikely friendship between Zak and Tyler is particularly endearing. Despite vast differences between the two men, they both surprisingly have a lot in common.
Those similarities include loneliness and an urge to escape boundaries of sorts. Their friendship almost mirrors George and Lenny from Of Mice and Men.
Living in a society today where there is more of a progressive discussion on physical challenges, the film equally displays a more optimistic reaction towards such conditions.
Rather than Tyler being ignorant and condescending towards Zak, he gradually accepts him and motivates him into believing his physical/mental strength.
Hilarious lines and sequences are neatly balanced with the poignancy of this friendship.
As such, the themes of hope, ambition and love are relatable. We all crave a friendship like the one depicted in this movie.
In fact, we see the reference of ‘alter egos’ and that seems to instrumentally form the film’s backdrop… Especially in the open locations.
The picturesque natural landscape act as the alter egos of both Tyler and Zak as these settings reflect their adventurous and vivacious side.
Whilst the whole friendship saga takes centre stage, Eleanor’s character acts as a voice of reason, discipline and practicality.
It is fascinating to see the results when the adventurous and serious individuals all unite on a journey that somehow binds them together.
In addition, the movie also sparks a debate about what type of treatments can really help physically challenged individuals.
Should it just be about strict medications and protocols or should allowing them to live a life of their choice, be the better option?
Such thought-provoking questions are raised effortlessly in the film and these are important points which can create more conversations in our society.
Most importantly, the movie raises awareness of Down Syndrome and even addresses some ignorant attitudes towards it as well.
The principal cast’s performances mark as the icing on the cake.
Zack Gotsaggen makes his feature film debut and what a confident, adorable performance it is.
The fact that he is nonchalant about his condition and uses that in a positive manner is just incredible to see.
At the same time, his relaxed demeanour intrinsically exudes the actor within and it is definitely promising. Plus, his comic timing is apt.
Shia LaBeouf has probably just given one of his career’s best performances as Tyler.
He displays a confident and charismatic character, whose sensitivity is also widely shown.
Despite him being quite a ‘masculine’ role, it steers far away from being toxic… In a sense that it does not follow lad culture.
It proves that a bond between two male friends can be unconditional and compassionate.
Dakota Johnson is on par with LaBeouf and Gotsaggen. She brings a certain ease to the character and it reflects so well on celluloid. Dakota is a delight to watch.
All three of them together on screen share a magical synergy.
En masse, The Peanut Butter Falcon works well due to its simplicity, good intentions and performances.
However, a few ‘comical’ sequences may be considered to be problematic.
For instance, Tyler punching a kid and aggressively hitting a fish until it dies may not go down well with some viewers.
Furthermore, we get to know about everyone’s past torment, but not much is revealed about Eleanor.
Additional details about her character would’ve made the narrative more convoluted.
This is a similar point about Tyler’s character. Whilst we find out about the reason for his solitude, it would’ve been more interesting to know more about his backstory.
Also, a clearer ending – especially a more neat completion of the loose strings – would’ve made the narrative more wholesome.
On the whole, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a refreshing comedy-drama. It is amongst the few Hollywood films which evoke a positive and progressive conversation on Down Syndrome.
Moreover, earnest performances by Zack Gotsaggen, Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson make this film much more of a delight to watch.
This one leaves you with a big smile and a sprinkle of tears.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)