Think of this as Huck and Jim floating along on their watery journey, but in this telling instead of Huck and Jim, it’s George and Lennie from “Of Mice and Men.”
In “The Peanut Butter Falcon” we meet Zak (played by Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down Syndrome). In the story, Zak lives in a state nursing home where he spends his time watching over and over and over a video of a wrestler known as Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). This drives his roommate (Bruce Dern) batty, so he helps Zak escape so the boy can go study wrestling with his video hero.
Now on the run, Zak hooks up with a crab fisherman named Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) who agrees to help his new buddy go find the fabled wrestler, so they set off on a raft. A kindly nurse named Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) gives chase to protect Zak from her hard-hearted supervisor who wants to lock him away again.
Teaming up, the trio floats along the coast of the Outer Banks on their mythic outlaw journey. Zak chasing a fantasy; Tyler an aimless drifter; Eleanor a softhearted do-gooder.
Co-written and co-directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, this is a feel good movie, a modern-day retelling of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” But you can think of it as “Forrest Gump” meets “Mud.”
The cinematography by Nigel Bluck enhances the telling of this odd-couple buddy flick. You can “smell the salt and pollen and mold in the air. The waves, cornfields, marshes, crab pots … bluegrass, country songs, gospel hymns punctuate the narrative.”
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is currently drifting along at Tropic Cinema.
In truth, the story echoes Zack Gottsagen’s own quest to become an actor (changed to going to wrestling school in the movie). The disabled young man has been studying acting since middle school.
The directors met Zack at a camp for disabled kids. As Mike Schwartz recalls, “Zack told us he wanted to be a movie star. We were honest with him and told him that there weren’t many opportunities in the industry for people with Down Syndrome, and of course his response was, ‘Well, why don’t you guys make a movie with me?’”
So they did.
As for the rest of the cast, bad boy Shia LaBeouf needed this film to save his wobbly career. Even so, he got arrested for public drunkenness during the filming in Savannah, Georgia. But his performance may just turn things around.
Dakota Johnson shows there’s thespian blood in her veins (she’s the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith). This dramedy displays an acting range beyond what we saw in those “Fifty Shades of Grey” eroticas. The camera loves her.
Needless to say, Bruce Dern is a national treasure, great in anything he does. And Thomas Haden Church is always capable, even playing an eccentric character like Salt Water Redneck. John Hawkes, Jon Bernthal, and rapper Yelawolf show up too, adding to the fun.
The theme of the movie is summed up in a line by Zak’s nursing home roomie: “Friends are the family you choose.”
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