THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON
USA (2019) 1hr 37mins minutes.
Directors/writers: Tyler Nilson,Mike Schwartz
Cast: Zack Gottsagen (Zack), Shia LaBeouf (Tyler), Dakota Johnson (Eleanor), Bruce Dern (Carl)
Screening 15 December 2021 at Swindon Arts Centre
The Peanut Butter Falcon is an adventure story set in the world of a modern Mark Twain that begins when Zack, a young man with Down’s syndrome, runs away from the nursing home where he lives to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler, by attending the wrestling school of his TV hero The Salt Water Redneck. Through circumstances beyond their control Tyler, a small-time outlaw on the run, becomes Zack's unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor, a kind nursing home employee with a story of her own, to join their journey. A wonderfully warm-hearted and magical film.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is sure to be beloved by those who make the effort to seek it out, the kind of film you delight in recommending to friends in years to come. It is simple, but very, very lovely.
Zack, who has Down’s syndrome, is living in a retirement home in North Carolina, despite being only 22. He’s desperately bored, passing his time watching vintage wrestling videos and plotting ways to escape. One bid for freedom actually works and Zack manages to hide in the back of a boat, which belongs to Tyler, a fisherman but also a thief who has crossed the wrong people.
The two first-time directors set a pace that suits the balmy North Carolina setting. The movie quietly builds up to an emotional punch that wallops surprisingly hard. It’s one of the year’s best indie surprises.
Olly Richards, New Musical Express
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a buddy movie, but it has the quality of a fable, even down to how it's shot by cinematographer Nigel Bluck. The film takes place in a very specific locale. You can smell the salt and pollen and mould in the air. The waves, cornfields, marshes, crab pots – even the condition of Tyler's boat – comes from reality, not someone's idea of reality. Bluegrass, country songs, gospel hymns punctuate the narrative. It's a fable, but a fable grounded in details, the here-and-now.
Except for the "names," the film seems to be populated by many non-professional actors, or at least people who actually live in the area. This makes a huge difference. Zack lives in the real world. Unlike so many disabled characters in film, Zack is not utilized as a symbol, a metaphor, or created to be "inspirational." He's the central figure, he's outspoken and strong, funny and vulnerable. He's never had a friend before. He's always wanted to be "bro dawgs" with someone. Watching the relationship develop with Tyler is one of the film's many pleasures.
The directors’ devotion to the details of Zack's world highlights Gottsagen's funny and intelligent performance, giving the film an authenticity it wouldn't otherwise have. It is inconceivable to imagine an able-bodied "name" playing this role and bringing to it even half of what Gottsagen does naturally.
Sheila O’Malley, RogerEbert.com
- Zack Gottsagen is actually 12 years older than the character he plays. He has studied acting since childhood.
- The film’s directors first met Zack Gottsagen in 2011 at a camp for actors with disabilities. After shooting a $20,000 proof-of-concept video, they received funding for the film.