Movie review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

The Peanut Butter Falcon — Running Time : 1:37 — Rating: PG-13

The Peanut Butter Falcon offers a complex movie experience. Some of you will be thoroughly absorbed while others may well be disappointed. Whichever emotion claims you, just know this movie is beautifully acted and directed. If ordinary moviemakers had set out to tell the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a boy in his 20s wrapped in Down Syndrome, they might have handed us the problems, the heroes and a solution. None of that happens here.

One quote captures the whole: “Friends are the family you choose.” The family Zak chooses is thoroughly unpredictable. This isn’t a story of an afflicted boy rescued by experts. With the help of his roommate (Bruce Dern), Zak escapes the retirement community where he lives to follow his dream of becoming a wrestler. Out in the world, impaired as he is, he ends up hiding under canvas in the boat of Tyler (Shia LeBeouf), a man on the run from the men whose boat he destroyed. The trust that grows between these two runaways is the core of the film and it is trust we never expected.

Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) is the professional who oversaw Zak’s care in the professional home he ran from. She searches everywhere because she is fond of him and feels responsible. When she finds him with Tyler deep into their escape, she wants to bring Zak back to professional safety — until she sees what friendship with Tyler has done for Zak. During their wanderings through the wilderness, Tyler helps Zak summon inner courage, helps him become the wrestler he dreams of being.

After a short while we stop telling ourselves that none of this could ever happen. Instead, you’ll ask yourself who on earth could have thought of this plot, written it, and cast it. Directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz have written and directed all of it.

It has become a fantasy of three people who aren’t hemmed in by rules as they follow the dream of a handicapped boy. As the three bend to that goal, each of them finds his/her inner self. Dakota Johnson brings the caretaker quietly alive as she steps out of her role as responsible professional. Shia LeBeouf is quietly amazing as the man who grows into personal change as he helps the damaged young man come alive. Zak Snyder, a young man who has created an acting career in his life with Down Syndrome has an astonishing inner drive that has allowed him to do it.

What I marvel at is the combination of these actors, writers, directors, and filmmakers who all said yes to making a film that on paper or in conversation sounds impossible. Because of their deep commitment, their talents have created a story that is rooted in a goodness that we rarely see on screen or in real life. Without silly solutions, three people grow together in the wilderness. Love it or not, it’s beautifully done.

— Reviewed by Joan Ellis

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