Three-and-a-half stars out of four.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a film that perfectly balances being humorous and heartfelt with being sentimental and realistic.
One of the biggest factors in its success is its casting choice for the lead role. The film tells the story of Zak, a man with Down syndrome (played by Zack Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome). This decision adds so much to the performance, not only in authenticity but in greater emotion when the scene calls for it.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” follows Zak as he escapes from a care facility to realize his dream of becoming a wrestler. Along the way, he meets Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a man also on the run, but for less noble reasons. When Tyler can’t shake Zak off, he decides to take him to the wrestling school run by the Saltwater Redneck, Zak’s favorite wrestler.
Then there’s Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), who works at Zak’s care facility and is trying to track Zak down and bring him home. When she finally catches up with him, she is forced to join them on their adventure. Together, Zak, Tyler and Eleanor become an unlikely family navigating the world together.
It’s a simple story that is taken to the heights of art and entertainment by the cast’s performances. The heartbeat of the film is Gottsagen. He gets all the best lines that can make the audience laugh and cry. It’s pure joy watching Zak and Tyler bond.
One of the reasons Zak and Tyler’s relationship is so engaging is how Tyler treats him. He knows Zak has Down syndrome but he doesn’t let that color his interactions with him. He gives Zak opportunities to rise to the occasion, and Zak succeeds every time. Tyler gives Zak wrestling lessons, teaches him to shoot and swim, and they build a boat together. He never sets limits on what Zak can accomplish.
Their relationship goes both ways. Zak becomes a friend to Tyler, helping him deal with his past and become better going forward.
Tyler and Zak’s friendship also helps Eleanor see that Zak needs more from life than the care facility offers. It’s these relationships, and how the characters help each other grow, that really makes “The Peanut Butter Falcon” soar.
All three actors play their roles with everything they have, in the big and little moments. There is nothing that seems fake or forced; it all feels raw and real.
The films and its performers could easily have drifted into sappy storytelling, but “The Peanut Butter Falcon” maintains the course of believability without sacrificing laughs or tears.
This is a modern-day Mark Twain story, with misfits and outcasts on the road, learning about life. Along the way, the audience learns too, and it’s a beautiful journey to be a part of.