The Peanut Butter Falcon

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is an oddly titled but endearing film.

How strange it probably is to learn that the oddly titled film The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of the most endearing movies of the year, if not the most. It’s a story that contains a prison break (of sorts), a chase across the southeast coast of the U.S., various troubles and confrontations, and wrestling. The film is about all those things, but it’s also more profound and compelling than that. Underneath it’s feel-good odyssey is an exploration of true human nature and the reality of the world we occupy.

The quirky adventure brings together an unlikely pair who form a bond deeper than blood. As these two strangers become friends, we follow suit and welcome these characters into our own lives like people we’d happily give the shirt off our backs. The duo at the center is Zak (Zack Gottsagen) and Tyler (Shia LaBeouf). Zak is a young man with Down syndrome who is running away from a nursing home to pursue his dream of meeting his wrestling hero (Thomas Haden Church). Tyler is small-time outlaw running from some crab fishermen (including John Hawkes and Yelawolf) with whom he’s got some bad blood.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a movie that surprises and delights you. The setup is such familiar material, like a classic Mark Twain book, that you think its narrative is going to spin flat and fast. However, the screenplay by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz (also the directors), cuts deep. Between the fun interactions of its characters are quiet nuggets of wisdom and truth.

LaBeouf’s character is a man filled with regret and pain. He’s at loose ends since the death of his brother and turns to steal the catch of other crabbers to survive. Rather than make large and cheap efforts to illustrate this sadness (by employing a narrative dump through a dialogue exchange between characters), Nilson and Schwartz allow their pictures to speak a thousand words. LaBeouf turns in one of his best performances and communicates so much through his quiet reflections.

This is by no means a quiet movie — there’s plenty of quotable dialogue to go around — but Nilson and Schwartz let scenes breathe. They don’t fall victim to quick cutting to soften the impact of their story.

It’s the loving friendship between Tyler and Zak that gives this film its wings. There are plenty of buddy adventure films out there, but The Peanut Butter Falcon takes a novel approach. It reads like great literature. It doesn’t push any ideas too hard or significantly manipulates its audience. It unfolds much like real life. Tyler doesn’t hold Zak’s hand but helps him as a brother would so Zak can carve his own path. Zak fills that void in Tyler’s life, and the journey they go on educates viewers about the importance of kindness.

There’s a lot to highlight and call attention to in this film, but I don’t want to steal its thunderous reward. You may be reminded of classics like The Goonies and Stand by Me, not because they share commonalities in their stories, but because of what lessons they leave you with. There’s much to chew on and lots to enjoy. Let it carry you to happiness.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

Recommended for you