Zack Gottsagen is Zak, a young man with no family and Down’s Syndrome, who has been placed in a retirement home because there is no other facility to place him in. Zak spends his days watching a videotape purporting to teach one wrestling. Zak also spends a lot of time trying to escape from the retirement home.
Shia LaBoeuf is Tyler, a young man who appears to be a crab fisherman, but who we learn is actually stealing crab pots from a man, Duncan (John Hawkes), who took over fishing licenses held by Tyler’s brother (Jon Bernthal) who has recently died. Tyler clearly feels that Duncan “stole” the licenses from his family and, so, he is merely taking what belongs to him. Not that Tyler doesn’t know that what he’s doing is illegal because he’s spending his days ducking the authorities and Duncan.
Zak shares a room with Carl (Bruce Dern), who he’s driving crazy with his constant viewing of the wrestling tape; so Carl devises an escape plan for Zak to gain some peace. Meanwhile, Duncan confronts Tyler over the stolen crab pots and threatens him if Tyler doesn’t stop. Tyler doesn’t take kindly to the threat and takes an action that propels Duncan to pursue him.
Tyler takes off in a boat in which Zak is hiding, and it sets up the journey that we are about to follow. While Duncan is pursuing Tyler, Zak is being pursued by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a volunteer at the nursing home who was supposed to be watching Zak and who had dubbed him a flight risk.
Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, who wrote and directed The Peanut Butter Falcon, set up a scenario where the characters Tyler and Zak become traveling companions as Tyler tries to escape Duncan and head to Florida while Zak travels to the wrestling school advertised on his video, which is along the route Tyler plans to take.
My only problem is with the screenplay, which too often takes convenient short cuts to move the story along. However, there are delightful performances by LaBoeuf, Johnson, Hawkes and Gottsagen, who himself has Down’s Syndrome but turns in a dynamic performance as a man who single-mindedly sets out to accomplish his goal of becoming a wrestler. Add in a marvelous performance by Thomas Haden Church as The Salt Water Redneck, the wrestling guru Zak is determined to meet and be trained by.
All too often, society imposes their ideas of what a person is capable or incapable of doing, and this story does its best to implode those myths and give us a different perspective on people’s capabilities and our concepts of friendships and families. I’m a sucker for a story with heart, despite some weaknesses in the narrative.
Despite these minor misgivings, The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of the better films of 2019, and I definitely recommend you give it a chance. In limited release and now available on home video, it’s worth your time.