From afar, The Peanut Butter Falcon seems like a simple movie.
The Peanut Butter Falcon follows Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a 20-something-year-old with down syndrome, escapes from his care facility in Florida in search of a new life. Zak wants to go to a wrestling school in North Carolina which is run by his idol, The Salt Water Redneck. Once she realizes that Zak’s gone, Zak’s caregiver, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), sets out to track him down. When Zak stows away on a boat, he meets Tyler (Shia Labeouf), who, like Zak, is also on the run.
After his brother’s death, Tyler has been permanently stuck in a rut and is now in trouble for stealing catches from other crab fishermen. Tyler agrees to help Zak on his journey, and the two set out on a Huckleberry Finn-esqe trek. It’s a plot that’s as “simple” as it could possibly be, just two men who are traveling to a destination. As the two men grow closer and closer, The Peanut Butter Falcon begins to feel like anything but “simple”.
The movie plays like a love letter to adventure, with beautiful southern set pieces, a ton of heart, and a fair share of dirt. It brings a sense of realism to Zak and Tyler’s journey that few adventure films achieve. Nothing is ever made out to be easy or romantic. The places and people that Zak and Tyler encounter are interesting but don’t feel overdone or campy. There are certainly entertaining situations that the duo ends up in, but they never take away from the initial journey at hand Instead, they show the viewer how Tyler and Zak’s relationship is developing.
Besides their journey, there’s a ton of authenticity to Tyler and Zak’s relationship. At no point, does the film pander to Zak’s condition nor does it ask you to. Rather than make the relationship a one-sided affair with an overdone message, both men teach the other something important about life. Zak understands his condition, but Tyler lets him realize that his condition makes him no different than anyone else. Tyler wrestles with grief and pain, and Zak helps him understand that love and friendship are both powerful aids for grief. As the two begin to grow closer and closer, the audience sees that each man is maturing in a different way.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is Zack Gottsagen’s first film role but you wouldn’t know it from watching him. Gottsagen feels like a natural, totally absorbing every scene he’s in with perfect comedic timing and a great sense of body language. He brings such a sense of spirit and energy that it Rarely ever feels like Zack is acting. His character is portrayed with a light-hearted attitude, but he’s not without his troubles. His character acknowledges his condition and the difficulties that it brings about, and Zack expresses these pains with painful honesty and frustration. Zack’s passion for acting shines through and his nonstop determination is as infectious as his personality.
Opposite to Gottasgen’s joy and determination is Labeouf’s Tyler, played with a palpable sense of rage and heartache. Labeouf brings just as much realism to the role, only it’s much darker and gruffer. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and his respect for Zack is evident. His character seems to be in a constant struggle between doing the right thing and doing the easiest thing, something that the actor has experienced in his own life. This allows for a deeper and more personal side of Labeouf then most people are used to. Labeouf’s admiration for his co-star is clearly apparent. He never talks down to Zack, he instead treats him as an equal and most importantly, a brother.
The term feel-good movie gets thrown around a lot, but The Peanut Butter Falcon is something more than just a feel-good movie, it’s a “your cheeks hurt from smiling so much” movie. Every scene is filled with so much joy and passion, with people who are just concerned with living and being happy. There’s a raw and gritty energy to the movie that few films ever achieve in their runtime. The movie brings about a world of realism and familiarity, a world that has it’s pain and heartaches, but ultimately, a world where anyone can get by if they have the right mind and the right friend.