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The Peanut Butter Falcon - Review

Peanut Butter Falcon

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

MIS-matched buddy road trip movies are a popular filmmaking device that regularly deliver big rewards (see last year’s Green Book as a prime example). But the central partnership at the heart of The Peanut Butter Falcon is up there with the best of them.

Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, this indie charmer may operate on familiar ground but it’s big on heart and driven by great performances. What’s more, it even manages to avoid some fairly obvious clichés to deliver surprising but subtle emotional depth and even a little darkness.

When Zak (newcomer Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down’s Syndrome, escapes from the elderly people’s nursing home he has been forced to live in, he determines to head to Florida to pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler.

He subsequently teams up with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a struggling fisherman who has been stealing the crab catch from others in order to survive.

Both men have people chasing them: in Zak’s case, his compassionate carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), while in Tyler’s, two rival fishermen (John Hawkes and Yelawolf), who seek violent revenge. But both men are also chased by their own demons: Tyler, still coming to terms with the loss of his brother (Jon Bernthal), for which he feels partly responsible; and Zak in trying to understand his place in the world and desire not to be written off by it.

Their ensuing journey is fraught with peril but brings with it a mutual respect and appreciation, which in turn delivers some unexpected triumphs.

As predictable and sentimental as most of this sounds, The Peanut Butter Falcon nevertheless delivers what’s expected while providing pause for thought in its depiction of disability. In this regard, the casting of Gottsagen is a master-stroke, lending genuine authenticity to the character of Zak that makes both his heartbreak and victory all the more emotionally powerful.

Peanut Butter Falcon

Gottsagen displays a nice line in self deprecating humour and bears the brunt of some pretty rotten put-downs at various points. But he also exhibits huge charm and charisma that makes him a continually engrossing presence. He is a memorable character.

LaBeouf, meanwhile, brings a sharp mix of disdain and compassion, neatly offsetting his developing feelings for Zak with his emotional despair over the death of his brother. Without being too showy or shouty, he displays a winning anti-hero persona that perfectly fits the Huckleberry Finn style adventurer he reluctantly becomes. It’s one of the actor’s finest performances.

But the ensemble is uniformly excellent too. Johnson is both nicely sympathetic and plucky in her own right, as Eleanor, whose interplay with Zak is especially endearing. She, too, creates the type of character that is easy to like and well worth rooting for.

Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church and John Hawkes also deliver first-rate support in small doses, even if Hawkes could have used a little more screen-time to properly flesh out his villain.

The script also works well to mix laughs with drama, while being prepared to let the actors work. There’s as much said through pained or anguished expression as in the dialogue, allowing audiences to arrive at some of their own conclusions regarding motivations and feeling.

If Schwartz and Nilson can’t quite land the perfect ending (seemingly caught in two minds between tragic or feel-good), their decision to ultimately opt for the latter should ensure that audiences leave on an upbeat, feel-good note. And bearing in mind the journey of each character, it’s no more than they deserve.

The Peanut Butter Falcon therefore has something worthwhile to say about disability, grief and friendship that offers audiences a genuinely heartfelt journey they will really enjoy taking. It’s easy to see why it has already become such a festival favourite with audiences.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 97mins
UK Release Date: October 18, 2019

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