In Brief: It’s exactly what you expect and that’s exactly, predictably perfect.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is not rocket science. If you’ve seen the trailer then you already know where the movie is going. It’s a buddies bonding flick in the vein of a dozen other equally positive and easy to predict movies.
Zak has Down Syndrome. He lives on a 200-mile strip of Islands known as North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Abandoned by his family, Zak is a ward of the state. He has a dream of becoming a pro wrestler and is tired of being stuck in a home for senior citizens. With the help of Bruce Dern’s tired old man roommate Carl, Zak escapes. He heads for the pro wrestler training camp run by the legendary Salt Water Redneck.
Shia LaBeouf is Tyler. He’s a bit of an outlaw. Tyler steals some crabbing traps. That gets him on the wrong side of some bad dudes. Tyler is forced to flee for his life. He’s headed for Florida and better days.
As they traverse the string of islands fate brings the two together and they quickly bond. Zak has to avoid being captured and returned to his prison of sorts by Dakota Johnson’s social worker. Tyler has to stay out of the way of John Hawkes’ Duncan.
Fate predictably intervenes and Johnson’s Eleanor finds them. She has no choice but to accompany them on their trip to find Salt Water. That’s no surprise. Neither are the love story hints that have all the subtlety of a swing and a miss by a pro wrassler that somehow manages to knock down the opponent.
In fact, there are very few surprises in The Peanut Butter Falcon and you won’t care even a little bit.
Whether a movie like this works or not depends on how the writer or writers, director or directors and producer or producers take the story from opening A to closing Z. Part two of that equation is the chemistry of the acting participants.
In this case A to Z is on pitch and that very necessary chemistry is exceptional.
LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen — who really does have Down Syndrome — give each other high fives and are stuck in a half-a-dozen buddy bonding scenes set to swamp sounding bluegrass music. They will have you smiling.
Both men are very good actors and they obviously have chemistry off screen as well as on screen. So do their co-stars. It’s the stuff of which award nominations are made.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. Their experience is short subjects. Two of them are about the now living legend Alex Honnold who scaled El Capitan sans ropes in the Oscar winning documentary Free Solo.
This is their first foray into real storytelling. Perhaps Honnold — who is likely a bit autistic — inspired them. Whatever, or whoever did, if you’re going to have a first effort, make it one as good as this.
The story the two writers and directors tell is deliberately simple. The situations the characters find themselves in are of the oh-come-on-now variety. However, the people Nilson and Schwartz create are as real as you and me. You’ve known and loved individuals in your own life that are exactly like them.
So have I.
In a peanut shell that is exactly why The Peanut Butter Falcon works. It is also exactly why you’ll, ironically and as predictably as this movie, leave the theater with a huge smile on your face.
Directors: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Jake Roberts
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and some violence. Yes, it’s predictable. So is the sunrise and you don’t criticize that, do you? This is the year’s best feel-good movie. Period. Friday Flicks with Gary loves it and gives it a 5 on the 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.