In 2011, filmmakers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz visited a camp for disabled actors in California. Here, they met Zack
The film follows Zak (Gottsagen), a young man who lives in a retirement home in North Carolina. Obsessed with attending the wrestling school of his hero, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), he escapes and encounters fisherman Tyler (Shia LeBoeuf). Together, they head towards Florida so Zak can achieve his dreams of becoming a wrestler.
At the core of The Peanut Butter Falcon is the friendship between Tyler and Zak. The connection between the unlikely pair works because it is not tainted by misconceptions, which would normally prevent any emotional attachments. As soon as he escapes his restrictive lifestyle, Zak learn and be himself without being seen as a liability. He also provides an unexpected source of comfort to the troubled Tyler – a quality he misses from his brother Mark (Jon Bernthal).
The unpredictability of North Carolina provides The Peanut Butter Falcon with a carefree attitude that softens the premise. In any other context, having an irresponsible young man taking someone with Down’s Syndrome away from his home would raise eyebrows. But here, it is charming – even the rigidness of kind-hearted Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) softens when she recognises her previously misguided efforts to support Zak.
Both LeBoeuf and Johnson offer subtlely layered performances as two lost souls trying to hide their emotions, but Gottsagen’s ability to deliver charm and laughs make him the real heart of the film. Supporting cast members such as Church, Bruce Dern and John Hawkes also play small though integral roles that offer depth in this character-driven drama.
Behind the camera, Nilson and Schwartz’s script builds on Tyler and Zak’s growing friendship to provide touching moments that aren’t overly sentimental. Visually, their simple, sun-kissed direction reflects the closeness of the characters while Nigel Buck’s picturesque cinematography highlights the vast wilderness of their journey.
With heart, laughs and one of the purest on-screen friendships this year, it is hard not to fall in love with The Peanut Butter Falcon.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is out in UK cinemas on 18 October 2019.
Director: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Zack Gottsagen, Jon Bernthal, Thomas Haden Church
Runtime: 90 minutes