Film review: The Peanut Butter Falcon


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, August 8th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Megan Basham now has a review of The Peanut Butter Falcon, an independent film about dreaming big.

MEGAN BASHAM, REVIEWER: As long as there are highways and byways to traverse, it’s hard to imagine audiences will ever grow tired of a good old-fashioned road story. Provided we’re traveling in good company, that is. And with The Peanut Butter Falcon, we unquestionably are.

Leaning in to the Mark Twain comparisons it will inevitably draw, this PG-13 indie tells the story of two unlikely friends who set off on a winding odyssey along the back roads of the coastal Southeast. Jawing, cavorting, and fleeing from trouble, they sail through scenic deltas and trek across barrier islands. Along the way they meet a host of quirky locals. Some prove to be allies, and some enemies.

Each young man is running from something. Twenty-two year old Zak has Down syndrome and chafes at the strict rules of the elder care facility in which the state has placed him. His caretaker Eleanor (played by Dakota Johnson) is as understanding and affectionate with him as she is with all her charges. But he’s not an old man. He has a whole life to live, and he wants the freedom to choose how to live it. He longs to be a professional wrestler and escapes out of the window to make his way to the wrestling school of his idol, the mysterious Saltwater Redneck. 

CLIP: Hey, Eleanor! I want to see Saltwater Redneck and I don’t want to go home.

Shortly after his escape, Zak crosses paths with Tyler (played by Shia LaBeouf). He’s a troubled young drifter who’s fallen afoul of a crew of violent fishermen.  If all this sounds like it has the makings of a treacly Hallmark melodrama, don’t worry. The unsentimental script doesn’t talk down to the cast or to us. 

CLIP: Look, I could have you arrested for kidnapping, OK? Oh, you could have me arrested for kidnapping? How do you figure? You can’t have me arrested. He’s a runaway. Can’t kidnap a runaway. C’mon, genius. I’m sure I could find some reason to arrest you. What do you want for him? I’m not going to sell him to you. No, no. What do you want for his life? His future? Why are you—? You don’t know anything about him. You know about the wrestling? Yes, of course I know about the wrestling. Alright, so I know some about him, don’t I? 

Plus, it’s too funny for that. A blind man who insists on baptizing the pair before he’ll help them does seem to miss some finer points of theology. But anyone who’s lived in the Deep South can tell you the scene isn’t exactly caricature.

CLIP: There are sheep in this world and there are wolves in this world. And I know that you two boys are just two weary travelers who have lost their way. So, we’re going to clean you up right with a baptism. 

The movie does include some rough language, particularly from Tyler. But his language does at least tell us something about the character’s background and rough life. It differentiates him from Zak and Eleanor, who don’t speak as he does. We know he’s grown up in poverty and has to fend for himself. We know he’s suffered loss and done things he’s ashamed of. We know he still doesn’t make the wisest choices. But his dirtiness and crudity don’t make him less valuable as a person. Any more than Zak’s extra chromosome does.

LaBeouf’s reputation for off-screen antics can sometimes overshadow how talented he is. As with his similar role in Fury, he breaks our heart for Tyler with a few restrained expressions and gestures. These whispers of loneliness and self-loathing are all the more affecting for their subtlety. He and the filmmakers trust us to understand why Tyler needs to be a kind of brother to Zak—why he needs this chance to prove to himself that he can be a good guy—without spelling it out with a big, weepy meltdown.

CLIP: I made a promise to him to get him to that wrestling school in Aiden. I gave him my word and I ain’t going to back down on my word. Now, you seem like a nice person. You care for him. You came all the way out here. Maybe it’s because you like me. I don’t know. And I’m going to offer you a favor. You can get on that raft with us and you can ride down there if you want. No. We’re not going to hop on your raft and cruise around down the river. It’s hot. You’re confused. I’m not asking you. 

We get an equally layered character with Zak. He’s full of his own contradictions and doubts and has his own growing to do. He isn’t just there to provide lessons for Tyler and Eleanor on how to be a better people. Actor Zack Gottsagen crafts a leading man who is alternately insecure, hilarious, and gutsy.

We live in a culture that too often treats the most glorious creation in the universe—a human being—as disposable. The Peanut Butter Falcon gently reminds us that whatever our backgrounds or challenges, we all shine with God’s beauty.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.


(Photo/Courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Armory Films, Seth Johnson)

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