“SHIT!” No, not the movie, I just fucked up my back on Tuesday and now realize I am behind on reviews (was trying to give you all one per day, this one yesterday, Ready Or Not today and then Angel is Fallen on Friday), so everything will be delayed by one day. Anyway, I saw THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON all the way back on Saturday, the weekend it first hit mainstream theaters, and now this week, I see a lot of you are discovering it on your own. Well good, because the movie is fantastic. It is a sweet, charming, and entertaining little film that also happens to contain Shia LeBeouf’s best performance of his career. It is also proof that indie films like this can still exist and be successful in the modern day era of endless superhero films, sequels, remakes, and reboots. Maybe my review here can get a couple of more people to discover how good it is.
The film is about a man in his 20’s with down syndrome named Zak (newcomer Zack Gottsagen), who escapes from his care home wanting to fulfill his dream of becoming a wrestler. To fulfill his dream, Zak is running away toward a wrestling school taught by his favorite wrestler The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). In his escape, one of his caregivers, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), goes out in search from him, and Zak also runs into a local fisherman named Tyler (Shia LeBeouf), who begrudgingly lets him tag along with him at first, but then they form a bond to last a lifetime. Not so fast, as Tyler has a couple of other local fisherman looking for him after Tyler burned down over $10K of fishing supplies right in front of their eyes. That’s really all I can tell you about the story without giving anything away. Narrative wise, the movie is pretty predictable until the very, very end. But in this case, as I say in call cases with movies that are predictable but that I really like, it isn’t about the ending, it’s about the journey. And the journey here is excellent.
Shia LeBeouf is incredible here. Jon Berenthal plays his brother in several short flashback sequences, and you can tell that LeBeouf based his performance and mannerisms to how Berenthal acts in real life. Using that, his performance becomes unique to his written character, where you not only can see them as brothers in this story, but also as his own individual. Zack Gottsagen, who has down syndrome in real life, is absolutely charming and hilarious in this; he gives the movie that pure sweet touch that it needs to stand out from other movies that has similar journeys and themes. Bruce Dern is in this as well, and I don’t want to ruin his role, but he steals his scenes in the little screen time he has. Thomas Haden Church also gives his best performance since Sideways as a wrestler whose attitude may surprise you. The only two performances that are just okay in this are John Hawkes and Dakota Johnson. John Hawkes is good, but he is wasted in only a few scenes as one of the fisherman after Tyler burns their fishing traps to the ground. Dakota Johnson I think basically plays herself, as there is not a difference in her performance with this and anything I can think of her being in, especially the God awful Fifty Shades films. She’s not terrible by any means, she is just there. Actually, I take one thing back, she’s pretty great and different in Bad Times At The El Royale, but that’s about it.
Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz both do a fine job as co-directors, especially this being their first major feature (they usually do regular shorts and documentary shorts). Not only are they both great actors directors, but they definitely know how to stage a scene, especially when both Tyler and Zak are going across a river at one point and are about to be hit by a boat. They give that and many other scenes a foreboding sense of tension and then that needed punchline release when the tension is over. They also co-wrote the screenplay as well, all of the jokes completely landing on their feet and then some. I laughed pretty hard throughout some sequences. The script is also very sweet and very charming and thankfully it doesn’t cross that line into sappiness and doesn’t go too overboard with what it is giving to its audience. Although, if I had one other complaint about the story, I really didn’t buy into Tyler and Eleanor being possible romantic partners. It would’ve been more realistic if they had just formed a friendship and nothing more.
But yeah, I totally love this movie, and I think a lot of people will discover it in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. Maybe even give Shia a much needed independent film career boost. It will definitely give a writing and directing boost to both Tyler Nilson and Micheal Schwartz, as I am going to seek out projects from them in the future. You have also probably noticed that I didn’t mention what the title, The Peanut Butter Falcon, refers to. Well, I said no spoilers, and giving away the meaning of the title is definitely a spoiler. You just need to discover what it means on your own. To the person that is reading my review, it is your turn to give films like these a chance either in the theater and/or at home, so that way this kind of film that wears its heart on its sleeve doesn’t suffer in this era and completely flame out. We need to keep flames like these lit at all times.