Directed by: Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz
Written by: Tyler Nilson & Micahel Schwartz
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern
A dream is a dream no matter how large or small it may be. Some want to land on the moon while others simply want to attend a wrestling school in the middle of nowhere. The importance lies in seeking it out to the best of one’s ability as done in this incredibly sweet and good-hearted story.
Being forced to live in a retirement home, Zak (Zack Gottsagen) has dreams of attending the wrestling school of his favorite performer, Salt Water Redneck. He receives care from Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), who has been able to thwart Zak’s attempts at running away. One night, Zak successfully escapes and crosses paths with a thief and fisherman named Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who’s on his way to Florida. Zak and Tyler agree to travel together to the wrestling school while Eleanor searches to try and bring Zak back.
Complete sincerity in filmmaking is so refreshing and that’s at the core of this story. It starts with Zak, who has down syndrome, and his condition does not define the character. He has equal standing with the other two actors in the story and much of the heart comes through his performance. His dream may be simple to others, but it means the world to him. LaBoeuf also plays such a tender role in Tyler. A guy who could be described as “rough around the edges” until he gets the opportunity to interact with Zak. The pure humanity and conviction by Zak changes Tyler and the priorities he holds.
One of the fundamental ideas of this film comes from the clash of beliefs held by Tyler and Eleanor. She eventually catches up to them on their journey and has an argument with Tyler about the course of action for Zak. Eleanor believes that bringing him back to the facility provides Zak with all of the resources he needs while Tyler believes that Zak should have the same freedom as anyone else. Zak isn’t some child and should be able to live and search for his dreams just like any other person. This all comes down to Zak having down syndrome and the way they each see it embodying his ability to be independent.
The way The Peanut Butter Falcon presents its story gives it the proper feeling of just how dirty all of the characters are. The color palette and cinematography capture the environment to the point where it felt like I could smell just how bad each character’s odor exuded. Nothing flashy about it but only goes to show how the reality and grittiness of the story and how it does not glamourize the looks of these actors or the actions portrayed in the film. It’s rusty and everything else one would imagine the journey down to Florida outside of the main roads would look like. Even down to the wrestling that eventually occurs, it all feels real.
Certainly not perfect, especially when adding the arbitrary villains that don’t offer much of anything but to be menacing. The type of menace that exists in that part of the country for sure. The film really didn’t need it and could have simply focused on the three lead characters, which builds the foundation of the film. That’s where the fundamental disagreements exist and are explored, but we lose some of that because it seemed necessary to have some outside threat.
Searching for a sweeter film than this one will be quite the task because all of the three main characters are wholesome at their core even if some have rougher edges. It’s all about achieving one’s dream no matter what others think and to live life how one wants to. Never a bad message to have and it played it really well throughout the narrative.