Friends are the family you choose. Save for Carl (Bruce Dern), there are not many people Zak (Zack Gottsagen) can consider a friend in his nursing care home. As an individual with Down’s Syndrome, everything and everyone exists to insulate himself from the outside world. Zak knows there’s more to life than this. He’s got dreams of being a professional wrestler just like his hero, “The Salt Water Redneck” (Thomas Haden Church), which is why he makes consistent efforts to escape his “prison,” much to the behest of his caretaker, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson).
One day, he—literally—slips out. Off into the world he goes, alone, while inadvertently crossing paths with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a fisherman/outlaw/loner something harboring deep personal pain. Mismatched as they seem, the two have found each other at the opportune time. Tyler’s on his way to Florida to start anew, and Zak’s endeavor to become a wrestler is a stop on the way in North Carolina. So, begins one of the unlikeliest road trip pairs in history.
The definition of movie magic is somewhat like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography. Sometimes, you can’t intelligibly define it, but you know when you see it. There’s a small stretch roughly a third of the way through in The Peanut Butter Falcon that’s nothing more than a “laying down the rules” moment between the new outlaws, but it’s so arresting, and from that point on, The Peanut Butter Falcon sets trail on a spectacular journey that’ll be hard to replicate.
Replicate, this movie certainly will be as Hollywood is wont to do. Making their directorial debuts here are Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, with their ultimate goal capturing the vibe and atmosphere read in the Mark Twain novels. They achieved their aim with flying colors, melding the modern (yes, there are cell phones) with the molasses. Swamp lands, rickety shanty houses, and remote gas stations seemingly removed from the rest of society all play a part in immersion. As does a fitting soundtrack, a combination of original and licensed music. One of the best things they do is deploying a sparse utilization of flashbacks, limited to solely one character. In a sizable number of movies, the usage of them can border on being a clunky crutch amounting to a desperate attempt to build characterization, particularly for debut feature directors. The way they are utilized in The Peanut Butter Falcon is from “A (moving) picture is worth a thousand words” perspective, and the power within them is high.
In addition to directing, the duo handle scriptwriting. Almost everything that happens in The Peanut Butter Falcon is organically free-flowing and laid back; there’s an endgame the characters need to get to but how they get there and even when they do so is up to them. This is the type of film that one simply enjoys hearing all the characters talk with one another. Don’t misconstrue free-flowing and laid back as an euphemism for something without a actual climax. The end of The Peanut Butter Falcon doubles as eerie and euphoric. Their only misstep is a romance that feels somewhat unlikely between characters.
For a movie that only runs about 94 minutes, it is impressive how much star power is packed within. Dern, Church, John Hawkes, and Jon Bernthal carry limited screen time and yet all four have crucial importance to what goes down. Non-actors Yelawolf and Hall of Fame wrestlers Mick Foley and Jake The Snake Roberts add something to the scenes they appear in. But it is a Captain Obvious statement that The Peanut Butter Falcon belongs to three people. How can Gottsagen not be admired in awe? He’s relied on to shoulder a lot and does so, not only dramatically, but comically as well. The impact he has made on LaBeouf is one the talented and enigmatic actor has credited to changing his outlook on life, which makes the duo’s evolving relationship in the movie nothing but real. In ways, Johnson’s the 3rd wheel, but she is absolutely needed as she is sort of an audience’s eyes into this setting.
No cheap pop here. Filled with unbelievable emotion and an unique, not-often-seen setting, The Peanut Butter Falcon legitimately resembles less of a film and more of an actual slice of life on many, many levels.
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