The Peanut Butter Falcon is a cheesy American coming-of-age film set in small-town North Carolina. It stars Zack Gottsagen as the main character (also named Zak), a young man with Downs Syndrome who sets out to escape imprisonment by his caretakers in a retirement home, and to reach his ultimate goal at the Saltwater Redneck wrestling school in Ayden, North Carolina. He dreams of being able to execute the “Atomic Throw” wrestling move and pores over old VHS tapes of his hero, the Saltwater Redneck.
Peanut Butter Falcon has comedy, drama, sadness, suspense, and an unconvincing romance. It fits solidly into the “it’s the journey that counts” trope and delivers a wholesome message about having a life worth living, goodwill and friendship. Shia LaBeouf, famous for his child stardom and crazed performance-art behaviours (e.g. screaming “Just Do It”), plays Tyler, a man set on escaping conflict and grief in his life. Tyler has severely angered a group of fishermen in his town, who set out to hunt him. He befriends Zak, and they find themselves on the run through the backcountry. Dakota Johnson (best known for the Fifty Shades of Gray franchise) is Zak’s caretaker, hot on their track as she chases to return him to the safety of the system.
The enemy in Peanut Butter Falcon is the aggressive violence in which Gottsagen and LaBeouf both witness and partake. The movie addresses what it means to be strong and challenges the need for violence. While there is a focus on physical strength throughout, it is implied that it is the other strengths of the main characters which separates them. Bigging up over the top fighting culture is handled with some sensitivity to the reality of the aggression present.
Another theme is purpose and its application; Johnson’s character, Eleanor, and her uncertainty have a sobering effect to the madness of wild pursuit. Throughout the film, each character learns, and we get to see some development in each character’s outlook on life. The opening of the movie sees Zak running from his trapped life partially naked, having escaped the bars of his care home’s window by lubricating himself with hand soap. The process of him gaining a sense of purpose outside of this free-for-all is something that we want to see from the outset.
There are some beautiful nature shots throughout the film, and the scenes of Gottsagen and LaBeouf navigating the great outdoors are stunning. And of course, there is a montage of the journey (given the type of film this is, it didn’t come as much of a surprise) which added to the charm.
Peanut Butter Falcon is not without its issues, but if you are looking for a feel-good summer flick set in beautiful marshland, with gators, lax handling of guns, liquor and country music of the American South, this will leave you set. What it does lack in some areas, it makes up by pushing its feel-good message of acceptance and friendship in a seemingly grim world. As a final thought, it’s best if you know before you watch this film whether you can tolerate its farcical optimism and Americanisms (which leave you feeling like you’ve had too much peanut butter). But if these don’t bother you, then find The Peanut Butter Falcon.