The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Genre: Adventure and Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 37 min.

Release Date: August 23rd, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz Actors: Zachary Gottsagen, Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, John Hawkes, Yelawolf

 


 

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-year-old Down syndrome person Zak (Zachary Gottsagen) desperately wants to leave his life in the Britthayven Retirement Home to pursue his dreams of becoming a wrestler – in the vein of longtime idol The Salt-Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), an amateur wrestling champ who runs his own training school. Zak’s been stuck there in Richmond for over two years, due to a lack of family members who can provide adequate supervision. And he often stages diversions with fellow residents to plot escapes, though they never find much success. Elderly roommate Carl (Bruce Dern) encourages the mischievous youth, much to the chagrin of nurse Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), who’s required to repeatedly reprimand Zak and label him a flight risk.

When Zak’s latest plot for freedom finds him as a stowaway (wearing nothing but his underwear) aboard dock worker Tyler’s (Shia LaBeouf) tiny motorboat – which he uses to illegally fish for crab – the two are suddenly involved in a high-speed pursuit, away from rival fishermen Duncan (John Hawkes) and Ratboy (Yelawolf). Tyler has troubles of his own, unable to find dependable work and frequently in trouble with the authorities. But despite his desire to simply flee to Florida, he can’t bring himself to leave Zak behind, opting instead to help him get to The Salt-Water Redneck’s school in North Carolina.

As the two unlikely partners journey on foot through the wilderness, Eleanor is in hot pursuit – the first of many improbabilities that generate a cute intrigue but a decided phoniness. “What if he’s living the American Dream?” Zak and Tyler experience numerous misadventures (one of which is a swim across a lake that sees them nearly run over by a yacht that they both should have seen a mile away, just as the sailors onboard should have also seen the swimmers far in advance; and later, everyone seems to track down everyone else at extremely convenient times) that craft a striking bond. It’s playful, lighthearted, and humorous, though it’s also peppered with heavier life lessons about generosity and tolerance and friendship.

“I wanna be a hero.” As the film introduces a steady stream of wild personas – many of whom are silly rather than frightening – the odyssey grows more charming and less trying. Yet there’s still a sense of sentimentality pertaining to Zak’s perception of himself, especially when it comes to defining his wrestler alter ego as a bad guy – due to his familial and societal abandonment. Plus, his life is filled with insults and commands, continually shaped by other people’s ideas of his limitations.

“This is not ‘Lord of the Flies’!” Once Eleanor catches up to Zak – and then joins their transformative pilgrimage – the picture turns into something along the lines of pure fantasy. Even a light romance starts to brew between Tyler and Eleanor. There’s still conflict in the form of Duncan and Ratboy, as well as the inevitable confrontation with The Salt-Water Redneck – a wish-fulfillment that can’t possibly go according to plan – but the movie is too breezy and unreal to have any lasting impact. It’s like a cartoon version of “Rain Man,” without any of the emotion and power of believable interactions and relationships. And the conclusion to the wrestling subplot (among other things) is the most unsatisfactorily fantastical of the bunch.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10