“Have you heard of The Peanut Butter Falcon?” I asked several people last month.
“The what? No. What is it?”
“Um, I think it’s about… two guys who go on a journey. That’s all I know. And Shia La Beouf is in it, the paper bag guy?”
That’s how my conversations would go about “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” based on the two times I had seen previews for it. Apparently, almost no one else has heard of the new movie. After seeing it, I can confirm more than Shia La Beouf: “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is one of the most touching and original movies in recent memory.
It is about a journey—a physical, Mark Twain style journey, but also a more significant internal journey for each character.
Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a 22-year-old man with Down syndrome, placed in a dingy nursing home by the state. He has no family, and his only friends are the geezer residents and Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a worker at the home.
The highlight of Zak’s days are watching an old VCR tape featuring Salt Water Redneck, a wrestler who runs a wrestling school and urges viewers to come learn from him (a main skill to learn: hitting people with chairs). Every day, Zak watches the tape and dreams about escaping to the school.
Zak finally busts out one night, lathered in soap to squeeze through the window. He runs off in the dead of night, dressed only in white underwear. He walks all night and stows away on a fishing boat to take a much needed half-naked nap.
Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a struggling crab fisherman in North Carolina consumed with the loss of his older brother. After committing arson and destroying $12,000 worth of his rivals’ fishing equipment, Tyler hops in a boat and is chased through the swamps by his deadly opponents.
Tyler finds Zak (puking) under a tarp on the boat. Tyler tries to get rid of him and has no interest in Zak’s dreams of the wrestling school. The movie would not be a good story unless the two finally become friends. The buddy comedy starts when Tyler discovers Zak is also a man on the run.
Zak is on a journey to find his personal freedom and follow his dream and overcome other people’s judgements and expectations of him. Tyler is on a journey to get away from being stuck in the past. The two travel across the off roads of North Carolina to rediscover themselves and find Salt Water Redneck.
A promising aspect of the movie is minority representation. Frequently, characters with disabilities are portrayed by actors or actresses who do not share the disability. Gottsagen is a man with Down syndrome, just like his character. Instead of being used as sort of a prop or solely the inspirational piece of the story, Zak is the main character. He wants to be a hero, and he has a hero’s journey. He knows he is considerably more than a syndrome, and the movie shows this—the story is about what he can do, not what he can’t.
Tyler and Zak buddying up is the best part. It is sweet, it is fun and it is adventurous. It all takes place in the wild outdoors walking through fields, sleeping under the stars and floating on rafts. Tyler takes care of Zak and cares about Zak’s dreams almost as much as Zak.
With the tired cycle of remakes and sequels being constantly released, this creative story sticks out. Visually, the cinematography is goodlooking; audibly, the bluegrass, folksy, gospel soundtrack is catchy. It has natural performances, shows the vulnerability and power of relationships and accomplishes so much in under two hours to warm your heart right up.