Featured image courtesy of Signature Entertainment
Runtime: 97 minutes
Directors: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
By Jenni Holtz
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” (2019) is a breakout hit from writers and directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. Before this, Nilson and Schwartz directed documentaries and short films, so this narrative feature debut is a departure from their typical formats. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” has been very successful thus far. It’s the highest grossest indie film of 2019 for good reason. This modern retelling of the classic tale of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is a joy to watch. The twangy soundtrack, picturesque setting, and stellar performances work together to set “Peanut Butter Falcon” apart as a film unlike others.
The film follows Zak (Zack Gottsagen) after he escapes from the treatment center he lives in. Zak has Down Syndrome and wants to live on his own but due to health issues and a lack of family to care for him, he ended up in a treatment center where he does not feel at home. One of his caretakers, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), expresses to Zak that she knows he doesn’t fit in and that the healthcare system is broken. The two have a special bond which comes into play after Zak sneaks out of the center and Eleanor is tasked with tracking him down. With no money, clothes, or concrete plans, Zak gets incredibly lucky. He meets Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who is on the run after setting fire to a boat at his workplace. Tyler is pretty annoyed that he has a companion he didn’t ask for, but Zak grows on him. Zak asks Tyler to take him to meet a wrestler who used to run a wrestling school so he can follow his dream. Tyler obliges, mostly as a reason to get out of dodge after committing arson at work. They forge a friendship out of necessity that turns into so much more. Zak has never had a family, so he sees Tyler as a brother and by the end of the film, it’s clear that Tyler sees Zak the same way. Eleanor becomes part of the family, too, when she finds Zak with Tyler and ends up joining them on their journey.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is an uplifting story about the power of acceptance and chosen family. Unlike many films, it includes a character with Down Syndrome played by an actor who also has Down Syndrome. Too often, characters with disabilities are played by actors who do not have those disabilities, so it is refreshing to see Gottsagen front and center in a movie that doesn’t demonize disability but also does not erase it. The film was written with Gottsagen in mind and he gives an incredible performance. His charisma and passion carry “Peanut Butter Falcon,” making it an unforgettable feel-good movie.