John C Adams Reviews 'The Peanut Butter Falcon'

The Peanut Butter Falcon

(dir Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, 2019)

I actually saw this movie because Jimmy and I were surfing Netflix for a Saturday night movie and he exclaimed, 'This was showing on my flight over here!' I'm willing to give almost any film a go, and Jimmy has fairly decent taste in movies, so at that point we were good to go.

Some films are a little tricky to categorise beyond calling them character driven, and the marketing describes this as a comedy adventure, which sort of hits the nail on the head. The two films reminded me of most were 'Forrest Gump' and 'Rainman', although 'The Peanut Butter Falcon' was a low-budget movie by comparison with those two.

Down's Syndrome sufferer Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is being cared for in a North Carolina nursing home because he has no family to look after him. He's labelled a flight risk after several attempts to run away, notwithstanding that his roommate Carl (Bruce Dern) and other residents are very kind to him. Carl engineers the escape, but Zak is left penniless and almost naked to fend for himself. He stumbles upon Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who has just been fired for bringing in illegal crab catches and has torched his former employers' boat in revenge. Zak longs to train to be a wrestler with his hero Saltwater Redneck, and Tyler is heading down to Florida to fish there instead, so they team up and sail along the outer banks to find Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church).

The psychologist in charge of Zak, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), comes looking for him, knowing that he will be sent to a more secure unit with hard-core cases because of his previous attempts to runaway. She is deeply conflicted about returning him to the system, but understands in a way that Tyler doesn't that Zak cannot manage out in the real world without a family to support him. She tracks them down and then joins them on the trip to find Zak's hero. They try to outrun Tyler's former employers, who are bent on burning his boat in revenge for his arson. Zak develops a wrestling persona, The Peanut-Butter Falcon of the film's title, and prepares to perform in a bout.

The location shots for this low-budget, independent film were amazing. The coastal sailing scenes, the swamp-based scenes when Tyler and Zak find a boat and the scenes around Saltwater Redneck's cabin home were truly beautiful. Filming took place in Georgia and North Carolina. Nothing filmed was suspiciously cleaned up to make it look pretty or perfect. It was really genuine, mess and all. The natural light made for some incredibly clear shots.

The plot was relentlessly upbeat and positive. In a jaded, cynical, violent world this was absolutely a tonic. Zak's quest to meet his hero unfolded alongside the inner emotional journey to secure the family life he craved. Much as I enjoyed 'Rainman' it was a sad ending, though probably the right one, and I never felt comfortable with the use of an autistic character for commercial and pseudo-criminal purposes. Likewise, 'Forrest Gump' had a sad undertone that belied that hilarity. Here, with 'The Peanut-Butter Falcon', the plot was deftly managed to ensure that Zak's journey ends with the family he longs to be a part of rather than with a return to the institution. Another massive improvement was that the learning-impaired character was played by an actor with that condition. Notwithstanding Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks' performances were very enjoyable, the simple fact is that times change for the better and casting decisions are finally coming to reflect that. My enjoyment of this film was grounded upon Zack Gottsagen's performance, and the subtle but powerful supporting roles delivered by LaBeouf and Johnson. The film was sincere and genuine, and incredibly moving.

The comments section is open. Many thanks for reading this review and to Chris Sabor for providing the image for this post via Unsplash. See you Monday.

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