Welcome to my choice for the best movie of 2019. After hearing rave reviews from friends[i] and The World and Everything In It, we decided we wouldn’t wait for The Peanut Butter Falcon to leave the theaters and hit RedBox. Our decision was rewarded with one of our favorite movies we’ve seen in a long time.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a story about two broken young men. Zak (played by Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down syndrome, whose family has abandoned him. A ward of the state, he now lives in a nursing home and longs for family and to become the professional wrestler he believes he was made to be (“The Peanut Butter Falcon” will eventually be his wrestling alter-ego).
Tyler (played by Shia LaBeouf) is a young man who at first blush seems to be as different a human being from Zak as one could imagine. He’s a sullen fisherman who is thieving crab cages to make ends meet. Beneath the surface, though, he is a young man struggling with grief and guilt over the death of his brother.
The world of the two young men collide as they both are on the lam and headed toward a murky future they only can hope is better than what lies behind them. The story riffs on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without being derivative. Chasing Zak down is his kindhearted caretaker Eleanor (played by the charming Dakota Johnson) from the nursing home. Chasing Tyler down are two thuggish fisherman who are after revenge for his theft.
Along the way Tyler’s hard, self-loathing heart will be softened by Zak, and Zak’s crushed spirit will be brought to life by Tyler. Zak and Tyler need each other equally. And yet, the movie isn’t overly sentimental or heavy-handed. The three central characters are three-dimensional and their redemption isn’t overwrought or simplistic. That does mean that Tyler’s language certainly warrants its PG-13 rating, but the language is authentic to Tyler and (especially compared to the norm) the movie shows great restraint both when it comes to sexuality and violence.
The only mild critique I would have of The Peanut Butter Falcon emerges from this strength. While the three central characters are fleshed out, as are a handful of delightful supporting characters (like the Salt Water Redneck (Zak’s wrestling hero), and Zak’s roommate Carl), the two villains and the greedy nursing home director feel all the more two-dimensional in comparison.
The movie deserves watching on its own merits, but a wonderful additional layer to the movie is its thoughtful treatment of Zak and his worth and dignity as a man with Down syndrome. The movie asks the viewer to consider how well they see the full humanity of those with disabilities. I dare you not to have your heart touched during Zak and Tyler’s poignant interaction where they speak truth to one another about whether they are bad guys or good guys. It powerfully shows the role of seeing and encouraging one another in our friendships.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a story of friendship and love. It’s a story of humanity. It’s a story written with surprising kindness and generosity. It’s a movie that you won’t want to miss.
Image credit: Variety