Somewhere along the North Carolinian coast, two young Southern vagabonds make a break for Florida; escaping lives bound by neglect, disenfranchisement and loss. Off the beaten track they follow, trekking lonely shorelines and fields of crops as tall as the sky. Their destination, Florida, promises as much opportunity as it does beaming sunlight.
The two emotionally troubled runaways, Zak (a star-making performance from Zack Gottsagen) and Tyler (a career redefining turn from Shia LaBeouf), dream of new beginnings, with their misadventures endearingly captured in 2019’s most big-hearted film, The Peanut Butter Falcon.
An on-foot-road-trip-feel-good-comedy-drama (say that three times), writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz craft with The Peanut Butter Falcon a glowing tale of love and self-forgiveness.
What begins as obliged companionship – Tyler being unwilling to allow Zak, who lives with Down syndrome, to venture on his own – transcends into brotherly companionship as the two misfits connect over shared feelings of isolation. Both characters fill empty voids in each other’s lives, with Zak standing in as a surrogate to Tyler’s deceased brother (Jon Bernthal) and Tyler offering a sparring partner for the wrestling obsessed Zak.
Many tender moments are shared throughout The Peanut Butter Falcon, with both Gottsagen and LaBeouf delivering a sincere rawness in their performances. Their exchanges are as heart-warming as they are intimate, and serve to reinforce the importance of people, particularly men, processing their emotions.
Close your eyes during any moment of The Peanut Butter Falcon and you will hear the delightful twang of a transportive bluegrass score embodying the friction of the moment. Whether used to denote a character setback or an expression of affection, the music featured in The Peanut Butter Falcon plucks the right emotional chord.
As effective as the music is in The Peanut Butter Falcon, Nilson and Schwartz allow the warm Southern landscapes, about as country as a grits breakfast, to powerfully communicate the growing friendship between Zak and Tyler. We see their closeness developing thanks to the positioning of the camera; the wide shots against pools of water to symbolise their distance becoming non-existent as the film progresses.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of The Peanut Butter Falcon is how the filmmakers don’t allow Down syndrome to become the patronising catalyst for character growth for a person living without a disability. Zak is allowed to be more than just a person living with Down syndrome; he has big dreams, complex feelings, a cracking sense of humour, and aspirations to improve his life (which he, along with his mischievous roommate Bruce Dern, takes into his own hands).
The Peanut Butter Falcon is not a film about Zak being inspirational, nor should it be. That said, the joyous highs the film ascends to are not without their crushing reality checks, with Zak being subject to the cruelty of wider society via slurs and being mollycoddled.
The latter idea that Zak is treated as delicate, as though he were made of porcelain, allows the film to ponder complex thoughts around society’s treatment of (and the political failure to assist) people living with a disability.
Begging to question whether Tyler is a ‘villain’ or a good person who makes bad decisions, LaBeouf finds a piece of himself within the self-destructive tendencies of Tyler and musters up a fine performance that is deserving of all positive adjectives. Tyler finds, and makes, trouble everywhere he goes, with LaBeouf’s journey throughout The Peanut Butter Falcon becoming a mild introspective of the controversial actor’s career.
An on-point cast of supporting characters, including Dern, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes (Hollywood’s go-to for casting a redneck) and Thomas Haden Church (who deserves more attention from Hollywood), help tie the film together into a tightly wrapped package.
Progressively told and full of love, The Peanut Butter Falcon is conscientious filmmaking that transcends its feel-goodish qualities.
Image: The Peanut Butter Falcon (film still) – courtesy of Rialto Distribution
Review: Hagan Osborne