Synopsis: A disabled man follows his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a feel-good movie that centers on a young man’s quest for self-fulfillment. The star is Zack Gottsagen, as Zak, who has Down Syndrome and has been placed in a nursing home because there aren’t any openings in more appropriate settings. Zak has elderly friends, including his friendly roommate (played by Bruce Dern) and his social worker, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) who is a good advocate for him. But he longs to leave the facility behind and attend a wrestling school run by his idol, the Salt Water Redneck. And it surely doesn’t help his mood that one of the workers is an a-hole who calls him a retard.
PB Falcon, written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, was inspired by actor Zack Gottsagen whom they met at an artists’ camp for disabled & abled persons. Zack’s dream was to be a working actor. Nilson & Schwartz crafted a modern day Huck Finn story that would feature Zak as a professional wrestling fan who takes off from the care facility where he lives. While on the lam, he crosses paths with a troubled and down-on-his-luck fisherman, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. While Zak wants to travel to meet the Salt Water Redneck, Tyler is on the run from a couple of real rednecks who mean to make him pay one way or the other for his vandalism of their crabbing equipment.
Zack is very good as Zak; conveying his character’s enthusiasm for the athletics and showmanship of professional wrestling, and his desire to be part of a family unit. I couldn’t help but think of how fortunately unfettered Zack is from Hollywood notoriety. His co-star, Shia LaBeouf has been working in Hollywood since he was a kid on the Disney Channel’s Even Stevens and transitioned to films like Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull where he played Indy’s son. His more recent work has been in less commercial films and performance art. One of his performances consisted of him sitting in an art gallery with a bag over his head, crying as visitors observed. He’s also been accused of public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and plagiarism. So, yes, filling his days drawling, rafting and flirting on-film with Dakota Johnson is probably a better way of staying occupied than what he’s otherwise gotten up to.
Back to the movie…Zak and Tyler start their journey southward on foot. Tyler is stoic about their march, but Zak complains. I related to Zak because I would need a sun umbrella, springy kicks and a whole lotta lemonade to weather a summer walk in the south. Tyler looks like he could subsist on chewing tobacco, but even he gets worn down. After scraping together a few bills, he has Zak wait outside while he ambles over to a little mart. I feared for the clerk because Tyler had a shotgun on his back and a crazed look in his eye. He looked pretty stunk up with sweat too. Soon though, he conveyed to the clerk that his wild look was due to hunger and not malfeasance as he piled junk food on the counter. Strangely, for a man who has recently been somewhat a part of society, he had a total disconnect on what food items cost and he had to forgo most of the loot. Poor Tyler was reduced to buying just a jar of peanut butter and a few fish hooks.
But Tyler doesn’t let his penury get him down because who walks in but (damn!) fine-looking Eleanor searching for Zak. She shows the clerk a photo of Zak and says she is from the care facility he ran off from. Tyler lies for some reason and says he hasn’t seen him. (Probably because he thinks that all men should run wild & free.) Then he gets about two inches away from her and comes on real hard and fast; she frowns and as she backs away from his broke ass, gives him the finger. Good on you, Dakota! I bet when her bf, Coldplay’s Chris Martin sees this scene he will like how she slags off Shia, I mean Tyler. In fact, I think that her mom, actress Melanie Griffith will like this role for her a lot better than when she starred as Anastasia Steele in the stupid Fifty Shades of Grey movie and she kept getting spanked in the red room by Christian Grey.
Tyler & Zak have a long trek ahead of them and the rednecks are on their trail — somehow. Unless you were a bloodhound, it would be hard to track them because they cut through cornfields on foot and then set out on a raft. The raft seems to move about an inch every ten minutes. Maybe they are dragging the anchor? They drift verrrry slowllly from river to sea. Fortunately, Tyler gets them to a deserted shore before sunstroke or dehydration does them in. When Zak hurts his ankle coming ashore, Zak hands off some curative moonshine. I wasn’t too surprised, because earlier, one of Tyler’s other brilliant moves was to teach Zak how to shoot a rifle. Meanwhile Zak is missing doctor’s appointments and physical therapy. But Tyler has an excuse for his foolishness; he has flashbacks to a dramatic backstory.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that Eleanor tracks down Tyler and Zak. Maybe she is too concerned about Zak’s safety and needs to let go herself. Time for all of them to jump in a river! Then, onward to the domain of the Salt Water Redneck where Zak, as the Peanut Butter Falcon (his chosen moniker) can meet his idol.
The Peanut Butter Falcon trips over some predictable plot developments and sentiments —You can make your own family with friends! But it’s a pleasant take on the American adventure à la Mark Twain. And its inclusivity is welcome. But… it also suffers a bit from the pat resolutions of dramedies that portray persons with serious, complex needs as just needing the anarchy of a renegade. Cured by whimsy! Yes, too often the humanity and agency of disabled persons has been denied. But, as Eleanor tried to tell Tyler, there are services and supports that people need the benefit of on a regular basis. It makes me think of the neuro-atypical character Abed in Community… In the “Physical Education” episode, when a study mate tells him that they just want him to be happy, he replies: Everybody wants me to be happy. Everybody wants to help me. But, usually, when they can’t, they get frustrated and stop talking to me.
Fortunately that doesn’t happen in the movies. And I have to admit, it did look like Zak enjoyed the drunken bonfire night with Tyler.
Movie Loon’s Shortcut Movie Review:
Cut to the Chase: Lightweight diversion full of good intentions
Humor Highlight: Salt Water Redneck!