REVIEW: The Peanut Butter Falcon (London Film Festival 2019)
Right from the get go The Peanut Butter Falcon will be a hard sell. Not because of the film itself or that it stars Shia LeBeouf and Dakota Johnson, but because of the name itself. Who really wants to see a film called ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’? I didn’t. Luckily this film is so much better than the off-putting and misleading title. In fact, it has enough heart and soul to fuel a rocket ship.
Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a 22-year-old man with down syndrome who was placed in an old people’s home way before his time escapes with a little help from his friend Carl (Bruce Dern). Zak’s big dream in life is to become a professional wrestler and plans to travel to a once famous training camp. Hot on Zak’s tail is caring volunteer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). She must find and return Zak before the authorities find out and he’s put in an even worse facility. On the road Zak quickly befriends Tyler (Shia LeBeouf) a man with his own troubles who is also trying to escape his past. The pair quickly bond and build a friendship while travelling along the roads and rivers of the deep south
It is never easy with a film this size but with buzz coming out of SXSW film festival 2019 earlier in the year (where it won ‘Audience Award for Narrative spotlight) The Peanut Butter Falcon soars in with positive reviews and high hopes.
Stand out lead Zack Gottsagen gives an intelligent and funny performance to Zak. He is the core and heartbeat of the movie. He gives a mature performance which helps create a truth which drives the film from scene to scene. He is extremely funny but also brings a level of humanity to a character who has sadly been looked down upon his entire life. One speech in particular will shed tears from the audience.
Shia LeBeouf puts in another decent and grown up performance. It is the paring with Gottsagen that when given time, gives the film its most memorable moments. It wouldn’t me surprise if they are close friends off screen as well as on. His confident yet damaged character helps drive forward the narrative. His pain is written all across LeBeouf’s face.
Dakota Johnson’s ‘Eleanor’ is given the least to do. Whereas Tyler and Zak’s back stories are flushed out, Eleanor is the least explored character. Her thin back story is quickly mentioned but it is never really shown in any real detail. Credit must go to Johnson who builds a character who really cares about Zak from very little backstory.
The supporting cast are also very strong and do some good work in small but key roles. Bruce Dern’s Carl brings a lot of earlier laughs which helps settle the film. John Hawkes as Duncan who is tracking Tyler is menacing and intimidating. Thomas Haden Church is enjoyable as Zak’s hero Salt Water Redneck. Jon Bernthal once again has a small role (see Baby Driver, Wind River, Widows) to add to his collection. For the WWE (WWF for my generation) fans out there you may notice a couple of familiar faces which will bring a smile to your face.
PBF (as I’m going to call it) is a warm hug of a movie and it does have its heart in the right place but sometimes it does feel that it tries to be too on the nose and make up your mind for you. It’s fine for a movie to show you to the well but it’s up to you to drink the water or not. I want to decide up how I feel not the other way around. Many people will have issues with the end. It just doesn’t blend with the rest of the film and it does feel rushed which is a shame because spending time with these characters is such a treat.
Debut director and writer team Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have put together not just a very charming movie but it’s also a film which looks and sounds great. Director of Photography Nigel Bluck makes good use of the picturesque scenery which shows off the southern landscape. Floating down a river with your friends has never looked so appealing.
PBF is a strong film which has a bucket load of positives going for it. It’s warm and fuzzy, it has solid performances from the entire cast and it is very funny. Sadly, for me it just doesn’t stick its landing, but that is a very minor quibble. If you have the chance to catch this film which will probably have a very limited release then it is worth hunting out.
Directed by: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Written by: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen