The Peanut Butter Falcon

 

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An engagingly offbeat work but one that falters at the end.

 
The Peanut Butter Falcon 

Zack Gottsagen and Shia LaBeouf

 

In this first feature by Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson, we have a film that feels very individual despite the fact that it is at heart derivative. It’s impossible not to be reminded of that huge hit of 1988 Rain Man since this is a buddy movie in which one of the two central characters is disadvantaged. In Rain Man Dustin Hoffman played a man who was autistic whereas here Zack Gottsagen, acting opposite Shia LaBeouf, appears as a young man with Down’s syndrome. In the light of today’s attitudes it should perhaps be stressed at once that Gottsagen is an actor who does indeed have Down’s syndrome and the film was created specifically for him by Nilson and Schwartz who are co-writers as well as co-directors.

 

It says much for Gottsagen that he handles this leading role with sufficient skill not to be overshadowed by the distinguished cast which, in addition to LaBeouf, includes Dakota Johnson and in smaller roles Bruce Dern, John Hawkes and Thomas Haden Church. Nilson himself comes from North Carolina and the story charts a journey from that part of the world down the coast to Florida. This rural setting is highly relevant to this contemporary tale as is confirmed when the music track features songs suited to that region and even incorporates gospel music at one point.

 

Because this is an episodic piece of Americana, the spirit of Mark Twain has been referenced by some and for much of its length the film is adroitly balanced between its humorous and dramatic elements. Gottsagen plays Zak a young escapee from a retirement home who by chance falls in with a troubled man, Tyler (LaBeouf). The latter is on the run after revenging himself on a crab-trapper (Hawkes) who has beaten him up for taking his catch. This man, Duncan, in the company of a sidekick (that’s Ratboy played by the rapper Yelowolf) is now pursuing him. The way in which Tyler and Zak bond despite being so very different in background and outlook is perhaps at heart sentimental. Most American films would opt to milk that, but this one doesn’t and the gain is immense.

 

Dakota Johnson is the nurse sent to find Zak and bring him back but who in time comes to support his bid to prove himself out in the world. She plays the role most pleasingly. As for LaBeouf, although an arrest during the filming when he was drunk hit the headlines, the role of Tyler is essentially a sympathetic one hardly characteristic of the parts he usually plays and yet he catches exactly the right tone for it. So long as the film centres on the bond between Tyler and Zak it is fine and, if hardly a major work, it expresses admirably the idea that those with Down’s Syndrome or otherwise likely to suffer from being dismissed as retarded need to feel positive about themselves and what they can achieve. But, just when the film seems headed for success, the focus shifts to Zak’s dreams of emulating a once famous wrestler (Church). Thus, in addition to bringing back Duncan and Ratboy when it seems most unlikely that they would travel so far seeking revenge, the climax involves Zak in facing potential injury in a brutal wrestling match. Quite apart from its sheer improbability, this suggests that the piece has gone off the rails in the absence of anyone finding a more apt way of winding up the tale. These scenes do explain the very odd title that the film bears, but it’s a shame that this conclusion feels so misjudged because until then the film is an offbeat pleasure.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Thomas Haden Church, Yelawolf, Wayne DeHart, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, Mick Foley.

 

Dir Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, Pro Albert Berger, Christopher Lemole, Lije Sarki, David Thies, Ron Yerxa and Tim Zajaros, Screenplay Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, Ph Nigel Bluck, Pro Des Gabrael Wilson, Ed Kevin Tent, Music Jonathan Sadoff, Zachary Dawes, Noam Pikelny and Gabe Witcher, Costumes Melissa Walker.

 

Roadside Attractions/Armory Films/Endeavor Contebt/Armory Films/Bona Fide-Signature Entertainment.
97 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 18 October 2019. Cert. 12A.