Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, after running away from a residential nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler, a man who has Down syndrome (Zack Gottsagen) befriends an outlaw (Shia LaBeouf) who becomes his coach and ally. Also starring: Bruce Dern, Dakota Johnson, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, John Hawkes and Yelawolf.
The heart of this story comes down to a man who wants to live life and try to achieve his goals without being held back because of how he’s judged by society, restricted from ever showing his potential and abilities. Zack has been abandoned by his family and placed in a nursing home as his local government doesn’t know what else to do with him, all he wants to do is wrestle but he’s unlikely to find a sparring partner amongst his geriatric neighbours. His first few attempts to escape aren’t so successful but when he finally breaks free, he finds himself accidentally in the company of Tyler (LaBeouf), after hiding on his boat. What begins as a mutual understanding of making the best of a bad situation and running from those who drag you down then develops into a sincere, kind and generous friendship, creating a place for Zack where he’s not judged, talked down to or underestimated. The only problem is, his care worker Eleanor (Johnson) refuses to give up the search for her missing patient and tracks him down across North Carolina.
It’s easy to see the fantastic chemistry between Gottsagen and LaBeouf, their camaraderie is almost intoxicating, the compassionate way that Tyler takes Zack under his wing is a genuinely heart-warming thing to watch. They do get into some scrapes but that injection of excitement doesn’t take away from the main draw of the film being the creation and growth of that relationship. Both of their performances are funny, down to earth and relatable with a dash of sarcasm, they’re simply truly enjoyable to watch act alongside one another. A mix which is only improved with the addition of Dakota Johnson, her slightly more no-nonsense approach is slowly knocked down by this pair of free spirits and forces Eleanor to adjust her perspective and re-evaluate how she interacts with Zack. Johnson’s performance is charming with a slight edge to it, she shows she has some bite and courage to her when pushed. Together the three of them make an unusual but magnetic family, and the film even has the bonus of adding the always brilliant Bruce Dern and the charismatic Thomas Haden Church, all in all giving the film a huge amount of personality.
Despite the fact that this wonderful friendship would be enough to keep the film going by itself, the writing has a lot to offer, there may not be any major surprises but there’s a very solid story going on alongside their relationship that has risk, danger and consequences, to give a little push to its pace. The comedic and dramatic elements to the story are written extremely well, it’s a little bit silly which is fun but also has a genuine message dealing with acceptance and rejecting prejudices ingrained in society. Visually it’s also brilliant, they’ve really made use of the natural elements that constantly invade the film, it’s very back to basics of the wilderness but it has a classic style to its aesthetics that only adds to its warmth and down to earth story. The only addition that might have been great to see, is exploring Tyler’s relationship with his brother further (Bernthal), they do it in a very streamlined but effective manner to give you enough that you can piece the story together but getting to really dive into one of their scenes together would have been a bonus. The score is fairly understated but only enhances the qualities of warmth, friendship and lively personalities that the film establishes.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a really great example of how to make a modern film that’s wholesome, it’s something that Hollywood certainly struggles with, granted it’s a difficult balance to strike just right in today’s world, but this film does it flawlessly, it creates a story of acceptance and friendship and kicks in excitement and comedy to boot. Gottsagen and LaBeouf make a wonderful pair and it’s a joy to watch them onscreen together, the relationship that their characters build is a beautiful thing, it’s not over emotional or saccharine, it’s sincere and filled with a mutual respect. Johnson rounds out the trio perfectly and every key character has a great personality and charisma to throw in the mix. It’s genuinely positive, heart-warming, funny and sweet.