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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

The Feel-Good Film of the Year

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: August 23, 2019 – U.S. • Rating: PG-13 • Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama • Running Time: 97 minutes • Directors: Tyler Nilson, Mike Schwartz • Writers: Tyler Nilson, Mike Schwartz • Cast: Zack Gottsagen, Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Yelawolf, Jake Roberts, Mick Foley

"The Peanut Butter Falcon" is a story about hopes and dreams; about the bonds of brotherhood and choosing who becomes family; about living your own life and not letting other people decide for you what you can and can't do or who you can and can't be.

Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down Syndrome who has no family and lives in a nursing home for the elderly because there's nowhere else to send him. His best friend there is Carl (Bruce Dern), who is his roommate and several decades older. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) works at the home and genuinely cares for Zak, despite the bureaucracy and negligence she puts up with from her boss, Glen (Lee Spencer).

Zak worships a professional wrestler known as The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church) and constantly watches and re-watches a worn out VHS tape featuring old wrestling matches and an advertisement for The Salt Water Redneck's wrestling school. With Carl's help, using the old tried and true method of soaping your body to squeeze through heavy metal bars, Zak plots his escape from the home to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

Along the way, Zak hides in the boat of a crab fisherman, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who is on the run. Their relationship at first is uneasy, but it soon blossoms into friendship, and friendship soon blossoms into brotherhood.

Tyler is down on his luck, struggling to make ends meet, and grieving the loss of his older brother (played by Jon Bernthal). He is being chased by two bad guys, Duncan and Ratboy (John Hawkes and Yelawolf), who make even The Salt Water Redneck's most villainous opponents seem tame by comparison. On top of that, he has to figure out how to navigate both the waters and the unexpected stowaway on his boat, Zak, who knows where he wants to go – The Salt Water Redneck's wrestling school – but needs a little guidance to get there.

Do they make it to the wrestling school? Does a blind man – helpfully named Blind Jasper John (Wayne Dehart) – baptize them in a lake? If you answered yes to both questions, you'd be correct – sort of. All of that is beside the point anyway. The heart and soul of this movie is in the relationship formed between Zak and Tyler. The most powerful parts of the film aren't in the dialogue, action, or conflict; they're in the quiet unspoken moments – a look of pride or concern, a brotherly embrace – shared between them.

It's a hell of a feature film debut for Zack Gottsagen, who proves that the only limitations are the ones we create ourselves, and it's quite possibly Shia LaBeouf's finest hour as an actor. LaBeouf's immense talent has been underrated and underappreciated over the years, but make no mistake about it, he is extraordinarily exceptional at his craft – and he showcases it yet again in "The Peanut Butter Falcon."

Thomas Haden Church is the last person I would've ever thought to cast as a wrestler, but he pulls it off beautifully – perfectly embodying the persona of a grizzled veteran whose best years in the ring may be long in the past but a spark still exists inside him. Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Mick Foley, two bona fide wrestling legends who appear in the film, know more than a thing or two about that!

Dakota Johnson also shines in a very sweet and tender but determined performance as someone who fights ferociously for Zak's best interests but doesn't always necessarily know how.

"The Peanut Butter Falcon" is a profound joy to watch – even if you don't like peanut butter, falcons, or professional wrestling.

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