Directed By Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
Starring – Shia Lebeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zach Gottsagen
The Plot – An adventure story set in the world of a modern Mark Twain that begins when Zak (Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome runs away from a nursing home where he lives to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler and attending the wrestling school of The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Through circumstances beyond their control Tyler (Lebeouf), a small time outlaw on the run becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor (Johnson), a kind nursing home employee with a story of her own to join them on their journey.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, adult language throughout, some violence and smoking
– Southern sizzle soundtrack. The musical incorporation has a huge part in this movie, echoing its twangs and bluegrass vibes for a majority of the film’s 92 minute run time superbly. There’s a seamless quality to the way it plays hand-in-hand with the documentation of the ever-changing visual environments, remaining consistently in-grip to the backroads channeling that the film holds so strongly in inescapable reminder. No track was ever familiar to me, and the benefit that holds is to maintain the attention of the audience firmly in tow to the dynamic of the story, leaving no escape routes of audible familiarity to drift away from what is transpiring on-screen. Very few films this year use music as a way to properly channel their unique setting, but “The Peanut Butter Falcon’s” immersive quality is nearly good enough to make you sweat with the humidity of the southern landscape.
– True tale of friendship. This is a feel good film that really tugs at the heartstrings of your cinematic vulnerability for how the movie values the common importances of life. It’s easy to see how these three characters alone have been jaded by life’s defining of each of them, but when they come together everything just clicks, and soon the trio find themselves blazing their own path of destiny as this lovable, disfunctional family that forgets the rules of conventionalism. What’s most important is the bond between them feels believable because of the time they spend interacting with one another, all for the interest of this magical man whose journey has united them. It teaches us not only to follow our dreams regardless of how big and boisterous they are, but also that the term family doesn’t always refer to blood. It’s a heartfelt reminder of life at its sweetest immagining, and gives the film a thought-provoking quality that radiates within its simplistic views towards life.
– Triple threat. It was great to see Shia back to dedicating himself to a character that requires a bit of a transformation to truly sell. Not so much in the visual capacity, but rather the audible one, Lebeouf maintains a southern accent wonderfully throughout, in addition to articulating enough quirks and ticks to his speech patterns that gives the character a very lived-in feeling of existence. Dakota Johnson also hands in another reputable turn in her post Fifty-Shades days. She emotes a character who balances a lot of love for Zak, as well as responsibility for the desperation of her job, and it makes the character easily the most complex of the film’s island of misfit toys. Gottsagen however, will repeatedly capture your attention in every scene he tears down the walls of personality which were built for him. In spite of his condition, the film has a lot of respect for Zak, comparing his dreams to that of us the audience, and offers one of those rare instances where he is defined for that quality instead of a condition that he was born into, and even when clashing with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, Gottsagen’s turn is the one you will definitely be talking about once the credits roll.
– Wacky personalities. Aside from the incredible work from the main cast, the combination of celebrity cameos and zany side characters added an endearing quality to the progression of the road trip, which surprised me at every turn. For the former, there’s a couple of professional wrestling cameos that made a wrestling fan like me do a double take, and added a layer of realism to Zak’s squared circle dreams, and for the latter, there’s apparently something in the water that intensifies the eccentric southern drawl that redefines the term southern hospitality. I couldn’t get enough of the many guests that this group came across, proving that compelling characters don’t necessarily require hours of exposition, but a flattering angle to capture the madness on display.
– Mesmerizing visuals. What I love is the complexity dedicated to the craft of shooting anything but a conventional shot composition to the immensity of the everglades, choosing instead to harvest it in some truly alluring wide angle lens combinations that speak wonders to a metaphorical double meaning. The first, is the distance of the journey itself, acting as a visual reminder to persevere through the miles that stand in the way as an adversity to ones dream, and the second is the preserving of this warm blanket of Heaven that the trio of newfound family find themselves in, under this vibrant blue sky that never seems to fade or diminish. This is a gorgeously shot film, and one that will easily transform your stereotypical opinion of the southern states in exchange for an endless amount of sunshine glow radiating off of the water so perfectly.
– As a wrestling interest piece. The list of credible professional wrestling movies is every bit as long as amazing video game movie adaptations, but “The Peanut Butter Falcon” gives way to a surprising third act that takes its time portraying the craft of Zak’s favorite sport. I mentioned earlier that there are two professional wrestlers in the film, but far beyond that, there’s a very candid depiction of the depths that ones career falls when the glitz and glamor wear off, and the few passionate fans are all that remains. There’s also a fantastical aspect to the wrestling’s choreography that would otherwise feel out of place in a film so grounded in reality, but works here because of the sentimental value it holds within the weight lifted from Zak’s psyche. The wrestling is so much more than an emerging subplot, it’s really central focus for the final twenty minutes of the film, and quenches the thirst of a wrestling fantatic like me, who rarely gets a chance to see it depicted with the air of class it deserves.
– Derivative to a plus. There’s no escaping this feeling like a Mark Twain deciple, and instead of the film trying to allude us from the obvious comparisons that this film draws from something like “Huckleberry Finn”, the central character himself even mentions the author in a moment that feels like the crossroads for two respective properties on the path to moral highground. There’s certainly nothing wrong with paying homage to a piece of literature that inspired you, and the team of Nilson and Schwartz incorporate the outline and themes to said novel, all the while distancing itself the longer that the film persists. Nothing feels remotely disrespectful or plagiaristic, and if it inspires someone who has never picked up a Mark Twain novel to give it a shot, then shouldn’t we be all the more grateful because of such?
– The ending. Even in a film that isn’t the strongest for its unpredictability factor, the closing moments throw a couple of twists and turns that rival 2006’s “Running Scared” for changing complexion. At first I thought that this, along with the wrestling match that I previously mentioned, were all elements inside of a dream sequence, but soon the walls of reality seem clearly evident, leaving us with a feeling of uncertainty that shakes everyone and everything for what transpires. You may read this paragraph and think it is all a major spoiler, but I promise that what you think happens doesn’t. It’s an entirely different direction of dramatic heft that closed the film out brilliantly, and stood as the biggest metaphor for the roller-coaster of emotional free-fall that I just rode.
– Too many musical montages. As to where I commended the film’s use of music throughout, the abundance of montage sequences constantly hindered the minimal amount of exposition for an already brief run time. It compartments these dynamics that aren’t given the proper two hours to fully flesh out, and gives the film’s second act an overwhelming rushed feeling that it never escapes from. The personalities and interactions of this trio are so compelling that I could never truly get tired of them, and this abrupt aspect of the film hints that the studio or the movie’s writers didn’t think that audiences like me would indulge in them as easily as it ultimately was, but their faith should’ve afforded them another half hour of exposition, particularly in the love angle between Lebeouf and Johnson, which feels like overdrive from their initial meeting.
– Brother subplot. Jon Bernthal is in this movie? I seriously had no idea. What’s even more troubling is that his inclusion offers very few moments of tender reflection or much needed explanation for the audience given constant reminder of this aspect. Almost immediately, you realize the meaning of this inclusion, but it holds so little weight on Shia or anything else within the film, earning it a badge of disjointed storytelling that would’ve been fine being omitted from the finished product. It felt like it was setting itself up for a confrontation that never came, and never truly established who this character was, what happened to him, and how did it happen to him?
My Grade: 8/10 or B+