Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a “Downs Syndrome type person” living in a nursing home because no one else can care for him. Since he is only 22, he doesn’t think he should have to live with the old people. All he wants is to go to Salt Water Redneck’s (Thomas Haden Church) wrestling school so he can learn to wrestle and be a badass.
When Zak finally makes his escape, he meets Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a local fisherman/crabber who is a bit of a troublemaker, to say the least. Like Zak, Tyler is also on the run. Tyler reluctantly agrees to let Zak tag along on his trek to Florida, promising to get Zak to the wrestling school. Initially annoyed at having a traveling companion, Tyler and Zak start forming a bonding friendship. When Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Zak’s caretaker from the nursing home, and possibly the only person who really cares about him, finds them, their journey could be cut short.
As cliché as it may be, The Peanut Butter Falcon is quite possibly the feel good movie of the year.
As evidenced by the reactions of many of those in attendance at the screening, representation matters. Zack Gottsagen has been acting in some form since he was young. This being the case, it isn’t surprising that he can carry a movie, even with stars like Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, and Bruce Dern sharing the screen. There is such purity in everything Zack does on screen. He will have you laughing one minute and in tears in others. And in between these, you will just be rooting for him to become the badass he wants to be. It is just an overall great performance. LaBeouf’s Tyler is right there with Zak every step of the way, literally and figuratively. Truth be told, I’ve been a Shia fan since his days on Even Stevens. There is just something so likeable about him. You can feel a real connection between Shia and Zack’s characters. You can see Shia’s character change as the relationship turns from burden to real friendship. This friendship feels so genuine because it stems from a friendship that developed off screen as well. At a Q&A after the screening, David Thies, one of the producers of the film, said the pair still talk almost weekly. (You can listen to the audio from Q&A session here: The Peanut Butter Falcon Q&A with David Thies.)
The Peanut Butter Falcon shows that regardless of whether the destination is what you thought it was going to be, it is the journey that makes all the difference. Outstanding performances by the entire cast, a great script, just everything about how the film was made makes it such a joy to watch. I can’t recommend this film enough.