The Peanut Butter Falcon is a film with such an unexpected name that the title alone makes people smile. “You can’t just make up words like that,” one friend said to me, incredulous, after asking what I’d seen. Moments later, he had the trailer up and he couldn’t wait to see more.
He won’t be disappointed.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a near singular surprise in a summer dominated by all the expected triumphs and disappointments. Perhaps that’s because this story wasn’t made for the box office. It was made for a friend. First-time feature writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz met their star, Zack Gottsagen at a camp serving people with disabilities. While there, Gottsagen told Nilson and Schwartz he wanted to be a movie star, and that perhaps, they should make a movie with him. Years later, they did.
Now we sit as the beneficiaries of that friendship. The Peanut Butter Falcon follows Zak (Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from the retirement home where he lives to pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler. Along the way he meets Tyler (Shia LeBeouf) a down-and-out fisherman trying to outrun his problems. The pair join forces in the Outer Banks and attempt to work their way to a long-forgotten wrestling camp undetected by Tyler’s enemies or Zak’s concerned caregiver, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson).
Equal parts road movie and coming of age adventure, The Peanut Butter Falcon pulls from influences as disparate as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Stand By Me to weave a timeless tale of friendship so sharply realized that you can practically feel the humid heat sticking to your skin. The film conjures a kind of magic, honestly capturing the power of human connection in a way that makes it resonant with life. Like The Way, Way Back and The Hunt For The Wildepeople before it, The Peanut Butter Falcon leads with a big beating heart and transforms a slip of a story into the kind of cinematic experience that film lovers crave.
There are imperfections here, to be sure, but it’s hard to care much about feel-good tropes or a certain measure of anticipated indie comedy zaniness when it all comes together in such a satisfying package.
Huge credit is due here to Shia LeBeouf who is at his best as the flawed, charismatic and pensive partner-in-crime to Zak. What’s tremendous isn’t LeBeouf channeling the honesty that made him such a compelling performer to begin with (though he does and it is wonderful) but the wisdom he has to make his performance about creating space for Zack Gottsagen, who proves to be the hidden gem within this hidden gem of a picture.
Gottsagen is every bit up to the task of making Zak a hero worthy of such an adventure. He walks a fine line of levity and emotion that renders him more than equal to LeBeouf and Dakota Johnson in the film’s most pivotal moments — the star he told Nilson and Schwartz he wanted to be, and who will hopefully bring his craft to more screen stories soon.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is the late summer entry that will make you wish the screaming hot days and easy nights will last just a bit longer.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Directors: Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
Writers: Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
Runtime: 1h 33mins
Release Date: August 9, 2019 (limited)
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