It goes without saying that the title of a film is rather crucial to reeling in an audience. Awkward examples include 1991’s Highlander 2: The Quickening (though I have heard the title is far from the only problem with the film), 1995’s To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar, and 1996’s Don’t be a menace to South Central while drinking your juice in the hood (a title that wowed me in my youth, though, like the other mentioned films, I have not seen it). There can be some that work (no other title is more everlasting than the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece Dr. Strangelove: Or How I learned to Stop worrying and love the bomb from 1964), but it is up to the audience member to decide if they will let the title make or break the film going experience, which leads us to The Peanut Butter Falcon, one of the year’s best films. I won’t spoil what the title implies, for the less you know about the film, the better (I would not blame you at all if you stopped reading and came back after you saw the film).
Directed by Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, the film takes place in modern day as we meet Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with down syndrome who has been living at a nursing home because he has no immediate family. He dreams of attending a school to learn professional wrestling as taught by his hero, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), but is unable to despite many escape attempts. Eventually, he is able to get away, only to come across a fisherman/outlaw named Tyler (Shia Lebeouf), on the run from rival fisherman Duncan (John Hawkes). Meanwhile, one of the nursing home staff Eleanore (Dakota Johnson) has been tasked to find Zak.
For a small movie (which is not a bad thing), there are a sizable amount of talented actors. Aside from those formentioned, small parts are filled by the always adept Bruce Dern as one of Zak’s nursing home friends, Jon Bernthal as Tyler’s deceased brother (shown in flashback), and minor roles from former wrestling stars Mick Foley (“Mankind”) and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The mention of the last two gives me promise that some who are in the WWE will be able to see the film.
Despite all the star power of the film, the core of the film’s energy belongs to the relationship of Tyler and Zak. As they set off on a modern day Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn type of journey, the unlikely bond becomes humorous, heartfelt, potent, and true. There is a moment where Zak states that, when he reaches the pro circuit of wrestling, he will be a “bad guy”. Tyler then explains Zak does not need to be the bad guy, and….well, the movie explains it better than I can, but expect to be floored with a lot of positive emotion.
About ten or so minutes of screentime made me realize I have been too hard on Shia Lebeouf over the years (I know I am not alone). Despite what goes on in his personal life, he proves here he is one rather talented individual, giving one of his better performances of his career. The same can also be said for Dakota Johnson. Though she had a small part in The Social Network (2010), I have not seen her in any other film until this one (I have not seen any of the Fifty Shades films, and never plan on it). She is proof that actors are best able to shine when given the right material. Still, it is Zack Gottsagen (who does have down syndrome in real life) who steals the scenes he is in.
Parents, the film is rated PG-13, mainly for swearing and some violence (though there is no sexuality, there are scenes where Zak is in nothing but his underwear at the beginning). Still, I would think middle schoolers and above would be okay seeing the film, and would argue they should.
Of all the things The Peanut Butter Falcon exudes the most is a spry charm that I have not felt for some time at the theater. I will put it simply: Give the movie a chance, or you are no longer invited to my birthday party.