Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Yet another movie I’d never heard of, but the synopsis sounded intriguing, so I figured why not? And I’m certainly glad we watched it.

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON has a fairly simple plot: Zack, a young man with Down syndrome, is placed by the state (North Carolina, in this case) in a retirement home because he has no family and no one to take care of him. He’s unhappy there and is obsessed with becoming a professional wrestler because of an old videotape he watches over and over about a wrestler who calls himself the Salt Water Redneck. With the help of his roommate (Bruce Dern, having a good time playing an old codger), Zack escapes from the retirement home and takes off to find the wrestling school that’s advertised on the videotape. The retirement home sends a social worker played by Dakota Johnson to find him and bring him back.

Along the way, Zack runs into a scruffy, down-on-his-luck fisherman (played by an almost unrecognizable Shia LaBouef) who is on the run from some guys who have a grudge against him. LaBeouf’s character really doesn’t want to get saddled with Zack, but he grudgingly befriends him anyway and agrees to help him find the Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school. Picaresque adventures ensue. Johnson catches up to them and reluctantly agrees to help fulfill Zack’s dream. They float down the coast on a raft, just like in the poster. And just as you’d expect, LaBeouf and Johnson wind up falling for each other. But then, not everything plays out like you’d expect, and actually, I think Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, who wrote and directed this movie (their first feature film), make their only real misstep near the end.

Despite that, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON is an excellent film, beautifully shot and with fine performances all around. I’m not really a fan of LaBeouf, but he’s pretty likable in this one. I’d never seen anything with Dakota Johnson in it before, at least as far as I remember. Isn’t she in those Fifty Shades films? It’s hard for me to imagine anybody as sweet and pretty and wholesome as she is in this movie doing all kinds of kinky stuff in those other films. But then, I wasn’t planning on ever watching those Fifty Shades movies, so I don’t have to worry about that, do I? The great character actor Thomas Haden Church plays the Salt Water Redneck, and real life wrestlers Mick Foley and Jake “The Snake” Roberts have small roles, too. I’m a Mick Foley fan from ‘way back, so it’s always good to see him.

Zack Gottsagen as Zack steals the show, though, with an earnest, genuinely likable performance, and the fact that he actually has Down syndrome never comes across as a gimmick. He creates a fully rounded character who’s sympathetic most of the time but can also be stubborn and annoying. The script by Nilson and Schwartz deserves some of the credit for that, of course, but Gottsagen really brings it to life.

Overall, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON is just a really good Southern comedy-drama, sentimental and heartwarming without ever becoming sticky sweet or preachy. It’s not the usual sort of fare I watch, but I really enjoyed it and give it a high recommendation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I’m a Dakota Johnson fan and I haven’t even seen any of her FIFTY SHADES movies. There’s a great little video featuring her put out by Architechtural Digest, part of a YouTube series called ‘Open Door’. Basically it’s just Dakota taking the viewer on a tour inside her house, and she’s quirky, chill, low-key funny and a pure delight.

I’d never even heard of THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON before, but it does sound interesting.