The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

The Peanut Butter Falcon
Director: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Writer: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Cast: Zack Gottsagen, Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, John Hawkes, Yelawolf
Seen on: 15.1.2020

Zak (Zack Gottsagen) needs to escape from the retirement home he has been parked at for years, despite the fact that he is very young. He has Down Syndrome and nobody knew where else to put him. Still, he needs to get out, then he can go to Salt Water Redneck’s (Thomas Haden Church) wrestling school. Finally one of his attempts actually works and Zak is off. By chance, he ends up on Tyler’s (Shia LaBeouf) boat. Tyler, too, needs to get out after pretty much destroying all of his chances to ever work as a fisherman in his hometown again. Together, the two strike out to fulfill Zak’s dream.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a wonderful film. It’s touching, funny and has an eye for the absurd. But most importantly, it unquestioningly centers Zak and his story, never allowing him to become a prop in his own film.

The film poster showing a drawing of Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), Zak (Zack Gottsagen) and Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) sitting on a raft.

The Peanut Butter Falcon manages something pretty great: it feels magical and utterly realistic at the same time. Starting with Zak’s escape from the retirement home: the film acknowledges the absurdity of him staying there and doesn’t try to soften his frustration and his loneliness that comes with his living arrangements. That there is simply no other option in the state’s eyes highlights the systemic failure that makes Zak’s life so difficult. But his escape attempts do have a touch of the fantastic. And that balance is one the film maintains for its entire runtime, and I found it beautiful.

Fortunately the film cast an actor with Down Syndrome to play the role – unfortunately an unusual move, but one that is absolutely central to the film’s success. And not just any person with DS: Zack Gottsagen gives a great performance, that is both funny and light, but also grounds his character with the anger and loneliness that he feels, keeping him from being pollyanna-ized as many disabled characters often are. His chemistry with Shia LaBeouf is excellent. LaBeouf (who was way too hot in this film, really, I was floored) is particularly good in the quiet moments, but overall, he could definitely keep up with Gottsagen. Dakota Johnson’s chemistry with Shia LaBeouf is also great and it was a pleasure to watch the three of them together.

Zak (Zack Gottsagen) and Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) getting drunk on a beach.

There was one moment I wasn’t entirely happy with – it’s when Tyler lectures Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a volunteer at the retirement home who comes after Zak, on how she infantilizes Zak. It’s the one moment in the film where they talk over/about Zak and not with him and has the ashen taste of mansplaining to it. But the film manages to avoid the worst and Eleanor does get her say as well.

But other than that, I was completely captivated by the film and it feels already like it’s going to be one of this year’s favorites for me.

Zak (Zack Gottsagen) with his hands raised.

Summarizing: Wonderful.

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