By Brennan Atkins
Arts & Features Editor
By Noah Barnes
“The Peanut Butter Falcon,” by Tyler Nilson and Micheal Shwartz, features Zack Gottsagen as Zak, Shia LaBeouf as Tyler, and Dakota Johnson as Eleanor.
The film begins by presenting two radically different characters – Zak and Tyler.
Zak is an orphaned 22-year-old with Down syndrome, who is forced to live in a nursing home rather than with people around his age due to the unavailability of nearby care centers.
He dreams of becoming a famous wrestler, much like his hero, The Salt-Water Redneck, a wrestler from the tape he watches daily in his prison-like abode. The staff at the home mistreats Zak, even going as far as having one of the staff members call him a r*****.
Tyler is a man who is dealt a bad hand and plays an even worse bet.
He’s an illegitimate crab fisherman who has recently stolen from one of the licensed fishermen in the area. This results in a threat of termination from his boss, and a threat against his life by the aforementioned fisherman. We come to realize that his somber personality is the consequence of a tragic car accident in which his brother dies. We realize they were much more than just blood, but legitimate best friends who did everything together, and without his brother, Tyler is a husk of who he once was.
The two of them meet in the oddest of ways – Tyler is running for his life from the fishermen, while Zak, down to his underwear, is running from the nursing home.
Tyler is distant, but cares for Zak’s immediate safety, while Zak thinks he’s made a new best friend, even going as far as inviting him to his birthday party. When Tyler realizes the wrestling school hosted by The Salt-water Redneck is on the way to Florida – where he’s seeking sanctuary – he half-heartedly agrees to take Zak.
As they have no money and are forced to do whatever to get to Florida, Tyler gives Zak two rules.
“Rule number one: don’t slow me down. Rule number two: I’m in charge.”
At this point in the film, the directors start playing with the theme of Down syndrome as a disability, but never a deterrent to doing great things. Tyler says that he doesn’t “give a s***” about Zak’s Down syndrome, which seems very harsh, but the reality is that Tyler’s treating Zak like a “normal” human being – something no one has ever done before.
Tyler says he’s probably never going to be a basketball player or a professional swimmer, but he can be an amazing wrestler. This sparks a passion in Zak that he’s never experienced before.
Tyler, at the same time, while not fully aware of it, is receiving the exactly what he needs right now – a friend.
He comes to realize that this is an opportunity to make his late brother proud. He can do a good deed in a life where so much seems to be going wrong. While he knows little to nothing about fighting – and actually gets beaten up earlier in the film – he takes Zak under his wing and starts training him.
While they are getting into downright life-threatening situations, the audience is presented with a moral question, “Is Tyler really what’s best for Zak?” While the viewer is left to interpret the situation for themselves, Tyler shows Zak a world that he’s never going to see otherwise and to Zak, seeing the world while gaining a companion is all he could ask for.
Through many days and nights walking, training, and partaking in the late-night consumption of alcohol, they become best friends and thus, the wrestling persona, “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” is born.
Gottsagen gave a phenomenal performance playing Zak and is the sole reason this movie was made in the first place. The directors contacted Josh Brolin with a script they wrote for Gottsagen, as he always wanted to be a movie star.
Shwartz and Nilson took five years and stayed on this project because they knew how charismatic, talented, and inspiring Gottsagen is.
In many ways, it seems as if the energy Gottsagen possesses in real life translates to film almost effortlessly. Intentional or not, it brings life to the theme of the movie, nothing can stop you from what you think is possible.
Perhaps this is why this movie doesn’t feel “fake feel-good.” Rather, it feels genuine and from a place of getting a legitimate message out there that hasn’t been tossed around Hollywood hundreds of times.
It seems as if indie movies often strive to get their voices, and messages, out to the world, but again and again, it seems as if they end in a shallow message of misery told in an overcomplicated manner. While depressing situations occur in most films, there seems to be an oversaturation of these storylines in indie films particularly.
This, on the other hand, is the awesome feel-good tale of two unlikely bros who are running for their lives while having the time of it.
It’s a simple, but timeless tale,
LaBeouf seemingly fell out of the sphere of blockbuster actors, with notable movies such as “Transformers” and “Fury.” While he has been taking roles in less popular films, he hasn’t reached the same level of stardom as when he was fumbling around with a big yellow CGI robot.
LaBeouf wasn’t anything outstanding in the aforementioned movies, but it seems as if it may not have been his time just yet – as his performance in this film is the best of his career to date.
The way he is able to transform Tyler’s character from a depressed deadbeat to an inspirational friend who always has your back is magnificent.
We are excited to see what LaBeouf has to offer in the future, especially with the upcoming release of “Honey Boy,” directed by Alma Har’el, and written by none other than LaBeouf himself.
Unfortunately, indie movies such as this don’t often get the money or recognition from general audiences they deserve, and it’s a grim future for the film industry when such an amazing project can be left unseen.
If you’re looking for genuine movie experience where you go in not knowing exactly what’s going down, and come out talking about it for hours, you may have to watch out for “The Peanut Butter Falcon.”
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” soars above anything Shia LaBeouf has done before.