The tale of a pair of mismatched misfits crossing paths and going on an adventure together is not unfamiliar territory.
A trope that usually involves a character running from their past, or on a mission to get somewhere to fulfil their own dreams or desires, is something we have all seen before.
Recycled stories can be okay, as long as they’re well-executed. And thankfully the feature debut from directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon, has revived the pulse of the buddy road trip adventure.
The film wastes no time in diving into its story. In its opening scene, Zak (Zack Gottsagen), who has Down syndrome, runs away from his care facility by lathering himself in soap and sliding between the bars of his bedroom window in just his underwear. The tone is set and off we go!
Along the way, he meets Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) – a fisherman running from his own set of problems – and together they team up to get Zak to wrestling school where he hopes to be mentored by his personal hero, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church).
Hot on their tails is Zak’s care worker, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a kindhearted volunteer who finds herself defining Zak by his disability more than she realises.
Prior to venturing into their first feature, Co-Directors Nilson and Schwartz were avid explorers and travelled the world making short documentaries. Their love of landscape is evident in this film, with the urban backdrop North Carolina almost appearing as a character in itself. Nigel Bluck’s cinematography is gorgeous and he does an incredible job of capturing the colours and sounds of the NC countryside.
The performances are outstanding here. LaBeouf continues his renaissance of hidden gems, still riding the wave of acclaim from Honey Boy (2019) and Borg vs McEnroe (2017). Johnson is wonderful as Eleanor, bringing warmth and complexity to a flawed character the audience doesn’t expect to have faults.
These are actors that have been doing the rounds for some time now – LaBeouf for decades, even – but both are outshone by newcomer Gottsagen. This film belongs to him. A blend of natural humour, charisma and depth, Gottsagen is an absolute delight on screen and you can see just how much love and joy there is between him and his co-stars.
What is most endearing about this film is that it doesn’t pander to disability. Zak is not dumbed-down for entertainment. Like anybody else, he is a person with dreams and ambitions and Nilson and Schwartz’s screenplay treats him respectfully. While doing this, they don’t shy away from the realities of ableism and how society views individuals with conditions they are not familiar with.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a wonderful, hilarious and heartwarming piece of cinema with a touching message about friendship, self-forgiveness and acceptance. It’s especially important amongst the discussions of inclusivity and diversity that are so prominent right now. And it goes without saying, it will leave you with a smile on your face and some food for thought.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is in cinemas now.