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With: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Yelawolf, Jake Roberts, Mick Foley
Written by: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Directed by: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content, language throughout, some violence and smoking
Running Time: 93
Date: 08/08/2019

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Charm Wrestling

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though this "journey of mismatched misfits" story may seem overly familiar, the bold casting and watery setting provide a welcome edginess that enhances the inevitable sweetness, and makes it genuine.

In The Peanut Butter Falcon, Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down syndrome. Because he has no family, he is forced to live in a retirement home, under the care of Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). One night, he escapes with the help of his roommate (Bruce Dern). Meanwhile, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is an outlaw North Carolina fisherman who is alone after the death of his brother, and so broke he resorts to stealing crabs from others' traps.

When Tyler angers two local crabbers (John Hawkes and Yelawolf), he goes on the run, with Zak quietly hidden in the bottom of his boat. As the pair make their way from North Carolina to Florida, to the wrestling school Zak dreams of attending, they slowly become friends. When a frantic Eleanor catches up to them, she has a tough choice to make: take Zak back, or let him continue pursuing his dream.

Co-written and co-directed by first-timers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon does follow a well-worn story arc, but the presence of Gottsagen — an actor with Down syndrome in real life — quickly ups the ante. The role of Zak was written directly for him, and his sweetness, strength, and playfulness are instantly endearing. He's contrasted by LaBeouf, an actor known for irreverence and volatility, and perhaps the last one you'd expect to open up and show a softer side of himself.

And when it happens, it's a happy surprise, and it's wonderfully honest. Johnson, best known for her role as Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades movies, completes the picture, likewise showing far more appealing vulnerability here. Largely filmed in Georgia, the movie makes beautiful use of land and sea, sun-baked shores and boats, and it feels warm and open-aired, smelling like salt and fish.

Yet it also conveys a realistic sense of desperation and menace, making the perils on the journey feel more concrete. But in the end, The Peanut Butter Falcon shows great and rare compassion, not only for Zak, but for anyone who feels marginalized or misunderstood.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release features beautiful sound and a crisp representation of the natural, mostly outdoor cinematography, which purposely comes across as a little brownish and pale. There's a six-minute featurette about Zack Gottsagen, which is almost as touching as the movie itself, a stills gallery, and trailers for this and other Lionsgate features. There are also optional English and Spanish subtitles.

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