The Peanut Butter Falcon follows Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down Syndrome, who escapes from the nursing home in which he lives in order to follow his dream of joining a professional wrestling school run by his hero, the Salt Water Redneck. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Zak’s carer, is tasked with bringing him back to the residential care facility, and hunts him down, despite her reservations. Zak soon crosses paths with fellow-outlaw Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a dirt-poor crab fisherman, who is grieving the death of his brother and running from two men who want revenge for Tyler’s thieving ways. Together, Zak and Tyler travel downriver towards Florida, both haunted by their past, both seeking a better life.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz.
Many of already likened the film to a modern retelling of Huckleberry Finn, with Eleanor even mentioning that Zak is ‘not living in a Mark Twain novel’. This little film with a big heart feels like a refreshing rebirth into better things for Johnson and LaBeouf, and resonates with a warm sentimentality. The film emphasises unvarnished nature and primitive male bonds, an interesting study into masculine friendships and self-discovery. For what amounts to quite a simple film, The Peanut Butter Falcon does some powerful things and taps into a primal and wholesome notion of connectivity.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is about finding direction and defying others’ expectations. Zak, demeaned and often tormented by others, finds true freedom and independence with Tyler’s carefree and stark lifestyle, and learns the fine art of firing a shotgun and drinking backwater whisky. The onscreen chemistry between LaBeouf and Gottsagen propels forward a sometimes waning and sluggish plot, their opposing energies of light and darkness bouncing off each other. Gottsagen is the perfect fit for the character of Zak – determined, witty, and sweet-natured, with an endless optimism and an honest wisdom.
Eleanor, while motherly and caring, represents the constant infantilization of people with Down Syndrome or similar conditions, and her character points to an important realisation that people like Zak need to be given the room and tools to grow and overcome the limitations placed on them by society. However, the unnecessary romantic subplot between Eleanor and Tyler cheapens the depth of Zak’s story, as if his journey of empowerment alone is not enough.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a gateway film to increasing representation of differently-abled peoples in mainstream cinema, and with its humble positivity and good vibes, this film stands as an excellent poster child for the benefits of casting different people to tell new and authentic stories.
Go watch The Peanut Butter Falcon and take a slow romp down the everglades to some soulful country music.
I rate this film 7/10.
The Peanut Butter Falcon opens in cinemas January 30.