Peanut Butter Falcon Shia LaBeouf Zack Gottsagen review

Year: 2019
Director(s): Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Writer(s): Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Region of Origin: US
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 93 mins

Synopsis: Zak runs away from his care home to make his dream of becoming a wrestler come true. (Source)

With all the horrible things happening in the world, it’s getting harder and harder to remember all the good. The Peanut Butter Falcon is exactly the palette cleanser we need right now. It’s not a film that looks at the world through rose colored glasses, but one that strips it down to its bare essentials. It steps slightly outside of our self-centered purview to look at life at its most pure. Avoiding exploitation or overly sentimental simplifications, directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz imbue graceful truths with crowd-pleasing fun. Thanks to a revelatory performance from star Zack Gottsagen, no matter who you are, or where you’re at, this film will absolutely disarm you. It’s a powerful reminder of what really matters in this life. 

Within the fringes of the Deep South are two lost souls. After a personal tragedy, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a rudderless fisherman resorting to criminal means to make ends meet. His actions are about to catch up with him, sending him on the run. Opposite, Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down Syndrome who dreams of becoming a wrestler. Slowing wasting within the walls of a retirement home, Zak’s roommate helps him slide thorough the bars of their window, all greased up and wearing nothing but his underwear. After a few mishaps, Tyler and Zak eventually cross paths. While they have seemingly nothing in common, the two form a bond that makes their odyssey through the lazy Mississippi River a genuine life changer. 

Borrowing heavily from Mark Twain, directors Wilson and Schwartz have created one of the sweetest films of the year. It feels spontaneous and loose, but focused in its presentation of two outsiders forging family. Tyler and Zak are infectious characters that we genuinely want to hang out with. Some of the film’s best moments are them doing nothing, keeping to themselves as the world around them keeps spinning. On that note, it’s incredible to see how Wilson and Schwartz have crafted their heroes’ delicate microcosm. It’s a world informed by what lies just out of reach, but also untouched by its gloom. The heart of the story, of course, is Zak’s unjaded view of each mishap or roadblock that comes their way. Through him, we gain a new appreciation for solidarity and the purpose we find in each other. With this understated value on what lies beneath, the story’s inclusive perspective celebrates and treats Zak as someone not defined by his mental disability, but made stronger because of it. 

Peanut Butter Falcon Shia LaBeouf Zack Gottsagen Dakota Johnson

With the story’s strict focus on Tyler and Zak, Shia and Zack shine as an unmissable duo. The true showstopper, of course, is Zack Gottsagen. There is rarely a moment where Gottsagen isn’t shining like a beam of light, able to drill his way into our hearts with a performance that transcends the material. Playing off of him, Shia’s Tyler provides context. Though Zak’s character can stand on its own, Shia is an entry point to a world that we’d rarely consider. Together, the pair are dynamite, bouncing off each other in various ways and selling the realism of this oft-times surreal fairy tale. Adding even more texture to their world, Dakota Johnson’s Eleanor isn’t a third wheel, but a contrasting perspective who helps to drive everything home toward’s the final act.

Films that handle mental disability can be difficult to pull off. Most times they come off as crassly exploitive or cling to surface theatrics. Though The Peanut Butter Falcon does succumb to an oversimplified conclusion, its heart is real, making it a special achievement that feels truly enriching. I came out of the film feeling wonderful and not in a way that quickly fades. This is a film that forces us to really reevaluate the world we live in and what it all means. With its focused minimalism and the humanity at its core, this is a timeless story that makes us want to be and do better.