The Peanut Butter Falcon is about two young men who don’t quite realize their full potential. It is a Mark Twain adventure with every box checked, but that somehow makes this film all the better. Treading down familiar territory has never been more fulfilling.
Co-writers and directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz found Zack Gottsagan at a camp they were volunteering at and heard him talk about his dream of becoming a movie star. They wrote a script just for him and were able to make his dream a reality.
The films star is Zack Gottsagan who plays a version of himself on screen, a young man with down syndrome. He lives in a nursing home as a ward of the state. Zak only wants to escape and pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Shia LaBeouf plays Tyler, a small time outlaw who is on the run from a couple local fisherman that he has been stealing from and set ablaze their crab traps. Tyler and Zak meet up by chance, both on the run and with no real direction. The pairing is rough at first, with Tylers edginess and ill temper making it a difficult few hours of traveling. As the two get to know each other they are able to help unlock what has been holding themselves back.
A pure sweetness jumps off the screen as the duo make their way to final destination and that is to attend the ultimate wrestling school and meet Zak’s wrestling idol. With any other film, the bond that develops could be seen as trite or corny, but Zack’s genuine spirit is infectious and he begins to knock down Tyler’s walls. The emotional journey taken by the two leads is heartwarming and ultimately what will leave a lasting impression.
Dakota Johnson is Zack’s caregiver and eventually tracks the pair down, but is drawn into their adventure and becomes a willing participant in helping Zac achieve his goal. Johnson blends in perfectly and the chemistry on screen is almost flawless with Zac no doubt the glue that holds them all together. A supporting cast of Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, and real life wrestler Jake Roberts help elevate the film even higher.
Whatever short comings the script has is more than made up for with the authentic acting by the three leads and the beautiful deep south backdrop for their adventure. At a brisk 97 minutes not all of its great cast are able to have as much screen time and the story might feel better served without having to move along so quickly. It is never preachy or pretentious, but portrays real humans with real disabilities in a way that should set the bar for everyone else.