If you’re looking for an inspiring, uplifting, and inclusive film, this is it! Zak (Zack Gottsagen) has Down Syndrome, is a ward of the state and living in a nursing home. He wants more from life and after watching countless hours of his wrestling hero, The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), he escapes thanks to his roommate’s (Bruce Dern) help. Meeting the troubled fisherman, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), Zak begins to live life like never before.
From the opening scene as we meet Zak conspiring with an elderly woman to create a diversion to escape the confines of the nursing home, we are immediately connected with this young man. Unfortunately, his unsuccessful attempt puts him on the “flight risk” list and we learn of the abandonment of his family. We also meet the thoughtful and compassionate volunteer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) who seems to be Zak’s advocate, understanding and knowing this young man well.
Undeterred, Zak’s subsequent successful escape leads him to Tyler who has a troubled past and a current life-threatening situation thanks to his poor decisions. Running away to a new life, Zak tags along with Tyler, initially unwelcomed, but eventually, the two develop an unlikely friendship, helping one another.
This adventure tale, as they travel along the coast from the Carolinas to Florida and stopping to find the WWE hero along the way, creates comedic, heartwarming, as well as dangerously dramatic situations all while they are being hunted down by Tyler’s foes and sought by Eleanor who wants Zak back in his safe home.
As the pair travel the coast, sailing on a make-shift boat, walking through corn fields, taking a detour into unknown parts, we are enveloped by the calming waters, the shade of the trees, and the heat of the sun thanks to the cinematography. The wide angles capture the freedom Zak feels for the first time in his life, his wings opening like a butterfly from a cocoon.
We are on this journey with Zak and Tyler, rooting for them every step of the way, never knowing what lies around the next corner.
Rarely do you find a film who’s main character has a disability as it shines a light on their strengths to remind us that even though someone looks different on the outside, we are so similar on the inside. Creating this empathy is thanks to the insightful writing and directing of Tyler Nelson and Michael Schwartz.
They combine an array of characters together, take them all along their own separate personal journeys, and together they support Zak’s journey. The character of Tyler is incredibly unique and LaBeouf creates this realistic, harsh, gruff and flawed character with complete perfection. LaBeouf’s Tyler treats Zak like anyone else and their relationship is incredibly genuine and heartwarming adding another layer of beauty to this film.
This is one of LaBeouf’s most authentic roles as he slowly peels away the layers beneath that gruff exterior, allowing us to understand his character better. Gottsagen’s performance is wonderful as he captures our hearts with his smile and changes us as well as our perceptions. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” has an all-star cast with Church as a unique wrestling character, John Hawkes honing his skills as a force to be reckoned with, and Dern completely enjoying his role as co-conspirator in a nursing home.
Johnson’s angelic nature shines through as a caregiver and together this ensemble cast tells an entertaining story with enormous amounts of heart and love.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is the year’s most uplifting and powerfully positive film filled with extraordinary performances that will change your perception of others for the better.
3 1/2 stars