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USA 2019
Directed by
Tyler Nilson / Michael Schwartz
97 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Synopsis: After setting fire to some rival fishermen’s gear Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) escapes by boat down the North Carolina coast heading towards Florida. Stowed away in his boat is Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down’s Syndrome who has run away from a nursing home to go in search of his hero, a wrestler calling himself The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church).

Going by what we see on screen the Deep South of America has always gone its own way, turning its back on the civilized niceties of the North in proud assertion of its feral parochialism. As the films of Jeff Nichols and David Gordon Green have shown us so well such terrain is a fertile source of small but engaging stories of eccentricity and self-determination. With The Peanut Butter Falcon first time writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz add handsomely to this store with an odd couple/buddy/road (well, river) trip movie of striking originality and constant charm and good humour.

Whilst the film nicely co-opts a Mark Twainish vibe with its story of two unlikely characters who bond as they flee down river away from authority and towards their individual dreams of liberty, Nilson and Schwartz’s script gives it a modern, off-beat twist that owes much in spirit, acknowledged particularly in the character of The Salt Water Redneck, to Jared Hess’s 2004 comedy Napoleon Dynamite. Like that film much of the fun of The Peanut Butter Falcon is in its unforced affection for its all-too-human characters and the everyday world they inhabit.

The core of the film is the relationship between Tyler, haunted by the death of his older brother (a small role for Jon Bernthal) whom he worshipped, and Zak, a determinedly outspoken young man who refuses to let his disability defeat him. Whilst LaBeouf, an experienced actor, makes Tyler a highly sympathetic character it is Gottsagen, making his feature film debut, who is the film’s trump card, bringing an unself-conscious authenticity to his role which no professional actor could have achieved. The interplay between the two is a delight. Also amusing are Bruce Dern in a cameo as Zak’s room-mate and Church as the retired wrestler who decides to turn Zak’s dream into reality. (which is the source of the film’s rather ungainly title).

Although Dakota Johnson is perhaps a tad too pretty, her character a little too idealized to fit well with this roster of misfits and beautiful losers, and her character symptomatic of a tendency to the conventional, she nevertheless adds to the film’s overall appeal.

If you enjoy modestly-scaled films with big hearts The Peanut Butter Falcon will be a sure-fire winner.




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