The Peanut Butter Falcon fits that dreaded phrase, “the feelgood hit of the year.” It’s a Huckleberry Finn-like adventure set in North Carolina. The film ended up becoming a kind of sleeper hit in the States last year, but it sadly didn’t do very well during its very limited release in the UK, because when it was released Joker was still dominating screens. I ended up seeing it at the Bradford Cineworld, because it was the only place playing it locally.
It’s the first feature from a duo of directors, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. A young man with Down syndrome, Zak, has been stuck in a rehab facility because there isn’t anything else available. Some of the elderly people and staff are OK, some are not—but he’s 22 years old and frustrated at living in a place full of old people with nothing to do. A couple of his escape attempts are foiled, but finally he makes it and runs into Tyler (Shia LeBeouf), a fisherman/criminal, while on the run. They go on an adventure that takes them up the river in search of the Salt Water Redneck, a wrestler who may or may not still run a wrestling school—Zak’s a huge fan of his videos and dreams of being a pro wrestler. As they try to find Zak’s wrestling hero, they are being chased by the police and Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), one of his carers.
The result is a nice movie with a strong performance from an actor with Down syndrome (Zack Gottsagen). LeBoeuf has had a really strong year with this film and his semi-autobiographical Honey Boy. It’s also the best I’ve seen from Johnson in a film so far, and features several good small parts for character actors like John Hawkes, Bruce Dern and Thomas Haden Church. The film has good intentions, and while accurate casting isn’t always necessary, it’s good to see someone playing a disabled character who actually has that disability (in contrast to, for example, Good Time, where they could have easily done the same.)
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a strong first film, and one of the best indies of the year. Hopefully it will end up having a much bigger response when it arrives on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming platforms—especially in places like the UK where few got a chance to see it. It’s well shot, not the most amazing-looking movie ever but the directors know how to use locations and it has a good aesthetic.
Sadly there are no extras on the disc.