The Peanut Butter Falcon
The Peanut Butter Falcon tells the story of Zak, a young man with Down syndrome who dreams of becoming a wrestler.
A modern retelling of the Huckleberry Finn story, The Peanut Butter Falcon might just be the feel-good film of the year.
Directed and written by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, the comedy-drama tells the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome who is forced to live in an assisted living facility in North Carolina, where he is cared for by social worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson).
With no family and few friends, Zak spends his days obsessively viewing wrestling videos and dreaming of attending a wrestling school run by his hero, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church).
Following a little encouragement from his elderly roommate Carl (Bruce Dern), the youngster musters up the courage to escape one night, dashing from the retirement home and heading for the nearest waterway, where he stows away on a small fishing boat. Yet, much to his surprise, Zak encounters troubled thief and crab fisherman Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) on the vessel, and the pair are forced to flee quickly after locals Duncan (John Hawkes) and Ratboy (Yelawolf) begin to chase him down after discovering he had burned $12,000 worth of crabbing equipment on the docks.
Tyler and Zak manage to evade the threatening duo, and without knowing the slightest bit about each other, head off on a mission to reach Florida.
Sure, some of the plot elements are far-fetched, but what really grounds the narrative is the sweet bond between Tyler and Zak. LaBeouf delivers a consistent Southern accent and compelling energy in his performance, throwing off his character's tough persona when needed and displaying genuine respect for his new buddy.
The moments when Tyler teaches Zak some wrestling moves, how to swim as well as how to shoot a hunting rifle in the wilderness, seem sincere, when in any other film such actions could have easily come across as condescending.
Meanwhile, Zack is utterly earnest in his expression and a total natural in front of the camera.
The way in which he builds confidence over the course of his journey is genuine - perhaps because Nilson and Schwartz were partly inspired to make the film in order to give him a chance to pursue a career in performance, having first met the 34-year-old at an acting camp in 2011.
Johnson does a good job in the film too, and after the duo convinces her to join them on their travels, she switches between wanting to act as a maternal figure for Zak, while also attempting to convey the message that people with disabilities deserve to be respected and have the same freedoms as anyone else.
However, there is one slightly grating point in the plot in which the co-directors attempt to make a reference to the Biblical figure of Samson with the wrestler character of Sam (Jake Roberts), which was unnecessary based on the strength of the central characters.
Despite this, the key themes of brotherhood, trust, and redemption in The Peanut Butter Falcon really resonate throughout the 97-minute runtime, making the film a thoughtful and uplifting folk story.
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