One of the films I was dying to watch last year but not got round to watching was the stellar The Peanut Butter Falcon. A first time directorial effort by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz and featuring their close friend and aspiring actor Zack Gottsagen who dominates in his first performance as Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome who wants nothing more than to be a wrestler. Escaping the retirement home he has been forced to live at for the past two and a half years, Zak encounters local troublemaker Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) and the two embark on a journey to find a prestigious wrestling school so Zak can start his training. Also featuring Dakota Johnson as Zak’s carer and friend and Bruce Dern in a welcome cameo as Zak’s roommate Carl, The Peanut Butter Falcon is an outstanding debut that will make you laugh and cry as it explores the development of friendship and kinship between its characters.
The screenplay is also written by Nilson and Schwartz and it’s clear they took their time with it to make sure the tone was just right. The pacing is quick and constantly moving as all good road movies do and every minute adds more layers to the relationships between the characters. We learn about Tyler’s background through short flashbacks which are then paralleled with his new friendship with Zak and it’s enough to create that extra dimension for his character. Zak’s character on the other hand is the physical driving force of the movie as the literal journey is to visit the wrestling school that he wants to train at. The dialogue is tight and even the supporting characters are fleshed out enough despite the film’s short running time. It’s the type of screenplay that many spend years trying to craft but can never quite get the tone right.Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen are nothing short of spectacular and it is clear that their friendship goes beyond the silver screen. The rapport they have makes for one of the best duos I have seen in a film in quite some time. The contrast between the two is also important to consider when looking at this film. Gottsagen holds his own with ease against LaBeouf who has been acting since he was a child and has been showing real development in his film choices over recent years. I have always been a fan of LaBeouf’s acting since his early acting days in Holes (2003) and Even Stevens (2000-2003) to his more recent roles in Nymphomaniac (2013) and Fury (2014) showing his full transition from family films to more mature films. Compared to Gottasgen who is a complete newcomer, the casting could have caused serious unbalance but the two bounce off each other brilliantly. It’s obvious they are having fun with their roles and it makes it wonderful to watch from the audience perspective. Not to mention the groundbreaking inclusion of Gottsagen being an actor with Down Syndrome who is playing the lead in a film that celebrates talents and shows that dreams can come true without being overly sentimental. It’s a film that will be remembered and should be remembered thanks to its heart.
Dakota Johnson is also brilliant as retirement home nurse, Eleanor. Eleanor is naive and thinks she knows what is best for Zak but slowly comes to realise that he is capable of thinking for himself. I think Johnson really came into her own as the lead in Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 film Suspiria, a remake of the iconic 1977 Dario Argento film of the same name. She looks to be continuing her streak of good role choices as Eleanor presents a new challenge. Unlike her performance as ballet student Susie, Eleanor works tirelessly taking care of others while also dealing with her own loss having lost her husband. She refuses to be swayed by the consistent flirting by the men she encounters when finding Zak and has no problem putting them in their place.
Another aspect I enjoyed in the film is its soundtrack. The film takes place in North Carolina and this is reflected in the bluegrass tracks that provide the backing in the film. The music adds to the authenticity and rawness that Nilson and Schwartz were going for. The selection of songs are not too heavy and feel relaxed and stripped back, much like Zak and Tyler’s attitudes when they find comfort in their friendship.The Peanut Butter Falcon is a great film to watch with friends and family as well as being a film that can resonate with its audience really well. I am looking forward to seeing where Gottsagen career will go after this and see this film as a huge welcome to his career. I also hope that the studios act on the discussions of being more inclusive when casting.
What did you think of The Peanut Butter Falcon? Let me know in the comments below!