The Peanut Butter Falcon screened its world premiere at this year’s SXSW earlier this month, and the charming movie is among the best titles to be shown at the event. Written and directed by the filmmaking duo of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, two of the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, the movie tells the heartwarming story of a young man with Down syndrome embarking on a journey to become a pro wrestler with the help of his new best friend. Full of heart and packed with humor, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a fantastic movie that will leave you feeling satisfied.
The man at the center of this story is 22-year-old Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a man with Down syndrome living with the elderly in a retirement home. He has dreams of becoming a pro wrestler, inspired by advertisements for a wrestling school in the south owned by the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). After escaping from the home in nothing but his underwear, Zak meets scruffy and directionless Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who agrees to assist Zak on his journey to the wrestling school. Meanwhile, nurse Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) is keen on finding Zak after his escape, heading the same direction upon realizing that’s likely where the young man is heading.
Zak may want to be a wrestler, but this is far from a wrestling movie. Channeling Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, The Peanut Butter Falcon focuses on the path to get there, along with the trials and tribulations along the way. The bulk of the journey is spent traveling on a raft along the coast from North Carolina down to Florida, with the unlikely friends coming to truly understand each other throughout. You’ll see plenty of humor and drama both in the outdoorsy buddy flick, but the best word that can be described to sum up the movie as a whole is “fun.” Ultimately, it aims to be a feelgood movie, and the filmmakers more than deliver on that level.
The story is well crafted and the Atlantic coast makes for some beautiful scenery, but where the movie truly shines the most is with its performances. All of the pieces fit perfectly when it comes to the talent, and the movie can be considered perfectly cast. The role of Tyler feels unique for LeBeouf, far removing him from other characters he’s played on screen. Initially, Tyler might seem like he’d be unlikable, but as the movie peels back the layers of the character to explain where he’s coming from, you’ll really grow to feel for him. Despite the actor’s real-life controversies – which even includes an arrest for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct while filming the movie – LeBeouf just might completely win you over by the time the credits roll.
Similarly, Gottsagen is rather endearing as the central character, Zac. Playing a character inspired by himself, Gottsagen brings his real-life heart into the role, and you’ll likely find yourself rooting for him as well on his path to become a pro wrestler. Dakota Johnson also provides an endearing personality for the nurse she portrays, and gels perfectly with both LeBeouf and Gottsagen. Filling out the ensemble cast with actors like Jon Bernthal, Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, and Thomas Haden Church was another stroke of genius for Nilson and Schwartz, as they each made their respective roles very memorable, despite having limited screen time. For the wrestling fans tuning in for the wrestling references, the filmmakers have something special in store for you there as well, as the movie features a few cameo appearances from some very familiar faces in the industry.
The Peanut Butter Falcon presents a simple story that makes for very compelling viewing. A fun buddy movie at its heart, it’s hard not to enjoy the wild ride to the wrestling school. The charming screenplay and excellent performances make it impossible not to care for the characters by the end of the movie, and you’ll definitely walk away from The Peanut Butter Falcon having completely enjoyed the experience. The movie does not yet have an official release date for a wider release coming out of SXSW, but if it’s released by the end of the year, it will definitely be a contender for one of the best dramas of 2019.