Slight, short, and sweet, The Peanut Butter Falcon stars two male leads who subliminally connect their own personal stories to the stories of the characters they play. These two young men may light up onscreen, but they shine through their subtext behind the screen.
You have Shia LaBeouf in the redemption role of a lifetime. If you didn’t know already, this talented actor has been struggling for several years with personal demons and addictions. In this day and age, everything gets recorded, and social media has had no shame exposing Shia’s every fall. After some recovery time and through his performance in this film, Shia can finally breathe and display his potential not just as an actor but as a human being.
He plays Tyler, a North Carolina fisherman with no cause but to live off the grid and reconcile his part in his brother’s recent death. Imploding guilt and a skirmish with the locals over fishery thefts have him on the run, boating through grassy marshes and laying low. Coincidentally, a young man with Down syndrome is hiding under the tarp at the back of the boat. This is Zak (Zack Gottsagen), and he has just escaped from the retirement home the county placed him in after he was abandoned by his family.
Gottsagen is also an art-imitates-life miracle. Apparently, Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz met him at a film camp for people with disabilities and were so enamored by his endearing sense of humor and obsession with wrestling that they had to write this movie for him. Despite judgment and the use of the “R-word” by the ignorant imbeciles of our country, Gottsagen and his character maintain a positive outlook on life, and this optimism humorously (and wisely) counters Shia LaBeouf’s gruffness in Tyler.
Two runaways, a boat, and the South: This is a modern Mark Twain tale with a big heart that edges close to oversentimental but rings sincere because its lead actors actually do possess big hearts. Shia’s eyes contain as much kindness as they do backward pain. Gottsagen is his humble and polite protégé.
“You don’t cuss. Why don’t you cuss? Tyler asks his travel companion.
“Because I don’t.”
There is plenty to talk about, plenty to see, and plenty to do as the two scurry down the coastline. Much like the rich panoramas found in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Mud (2012), and Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), Peanut Butter Falcon places the camera in the thick of the swamplands, sandy beaches of the outer banks, and dangling weeping willows that hover above quiet estuaries. Although the introductory sequence and twangy guitar score give off a “shucky darn” undertone, the movie gradually evolves into southern mystic territory where even the trials of Tom and imperfections of Huck reach salvation.
I couldn’t help but feel proud of Shia and Zack as I left the theatre. Very rarely do we see a movie about real struggle by actors and actresses who really struggle. It’s the kind of movie you leave feeling more for the actors than their characters.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) **** out of *****