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Lionsgate has just released The Peanut Butter Falcon, a buddy pic that should absolutely not appeal to me in any way, shape, or form, on Blu-Ray and DVD. When I was asked to review the film, my first instinct was no. As my friend Shannon puts it, there is way too much entertainment out there to spend your time watching something you don’t love.
I read the synopsis and that’s what confirmed my lack of interest:
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a funny, heartwarming story about Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down Syndrome who runs away from a residential nursing home to fulfill his dream of attending the pro wrestling school of his idol, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). On the road, Zak meets Tyler (Shia LaBeouf!!), a small-time outlaw who becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together, they set out on a wild, life-changing journey and try to convince Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a kind nursing-home employee charged with bringing Zak back, to join them.
I’m a cynic and words like “heartwarming” sometimes turn me off. I anticipate forced emotional situations and I’m not there for it. I have mixed feelings about Shia LaBeouf. And I was worried that a Down syndrome storyline would make the story feel like it had “A MESSAGE.”
But sometimes you have to look for entertainment gems where you wouldn’t normally expect to find them. So I watched the video trailer for the film and I’ll admit it, it looked heartwarming.
I agreed to review the film and with my schedule, I had to watch it the day it arrived at my house. I was under a deadline to write my review today and had no other choice but to tell my family last night that this movie would be our viewing selection for the night.
I could see the look on my husband’s face and my son’s face. This is the not the entertainment they were looking for. The DVD cover even proclaims it “the sweetest darn film of the decade.”
As I’ve done with many movies in the past, I just hit play and ignored them. And before long, I noticed that not only was I totally engrossed but so were they.
I think you know where this review is going.
I absolutely loved this movie for so many reasons. Let me try to lay a few of them out for you.
First of all, let’s talk about Shia LaBeouf. Maybe he’s done a few weird stunts in the past but I really don’t care. This is one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time. Does he master a foreign accent? Is it over the top emotional? Nope, there’s nothing about this role that would make it a traditional Oscar-worthy role. But his immersion into the role of a down-on-his-luck North Carolina fisherman was so complete that the beauty was in his subtlety.
Having lived in North Carolina for 17 years, I could feel the authenticity not only of his character but of every other character actor in the film, from his fishing boss to the blind old man that baptizes him. The performances were so authentic that it almost made me feel like I was watching a bit of a documentary at times.
But the heart of this story IS the story. Zak, played by Zack Gottsagen, is an unwanted Down syndrome young adult that simply wants to break out and embrace life (as a pro wrestler!) but is continually treated like a toddler that needs to be managed and restrained.
He finds a way to literally break out and ends up traveling the North Carolina coast with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) and an unlikely relationship forms between the two. It sounds totally cliché, right? I KNOW! That’s why it’s a film that you just have to watch on faith.
Eventually, Tyler helps lead Zak to the place where he hopes to make his pro wrestling dreams come true. Look for Thomas Haden Church playing retired pro wrestler, Salt Water Redneck, and his friend Sam, played by Jake the Snake.
It’s a buddy pic. It’s a coming of age story. It’s an updated version of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Or Lennie and George from Of Mice and Men. And it’s also the sweetest damn film of the decade.
Look for a stellar cast including Shia LaBeouf, newcomer Zack Gottsagen (who holds his own), Dakota Johnson, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, Bruce Dern, and John Hawkes. It’s rated PG-13 for some violence and salty language but it’s a great movie for just about anyone.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is available for digital download and purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.