The Peanut Butter Falcon

03/04/20

Curzon Home Cinema

One of the most interesting actorly transformations of recent years is the one undertaken by Shia LaBeouf. Formally regarded as a bit of a twonk about town, he recently delivered the excellent Honey Boy, the film he wrote whilst undergoing rehab – and now here’s another winner, in the shape of The Peanut Butter Falcon, an appealing buddy movie set in the wetlands of North Carolina, though in this case, the writing duties are handled by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, who also co-direct,

La Beouf plays Tyler, who – since the death of his much-loved older brother – is eking a precarious living as a crab fisherman. Tyler isn’t too fussy about occasionally robbing the traps of his more successful neighbours and this inevitably leads him into violent conflict with them. He’s soon obliged to go on the run from those he has crossed swords with.

But his escape bid coincides with that of runaway, Zak (Zack Gottsagen), who has managed to escape from the care home where he has been unfairly sequestered for far too long. Zak is a young man with Downs Syndrome.  There’s nobody else prepared to take charge of him, but he is understandably bewildered to be locked up with old age pensioners like his friend, Carl (Bruce Dern). Zak is also obsessed with a series of old videos featuring his longtime wrestling hero, Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church), and he’s determined to make his way to the man’s ‘wrestling school’ to meet him in person.

At first Tyler and Zak make for uncomfortable travelling companions but, as they progress across the waterlogged landscapes of their homeland, an appealing ‘chalk and cheese’ friendship begins to develop. It’s not long before Tyler is fuelling Zak’s ambition to be a professional wrestler, even coming up with the titular nickname for his intended career. But somebody is looking for Zak. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), the carer formally charged with looking after him, has been told, in no uncertain terms, to find him and bring him back to face further incarceration…

This is a charming and affectionate film, which, though it occasionally strays uncomfortably close to schmaltz, nonetheless carries its powerful central message with considerable aplomb. Gottsagen is an assured performer and so is La Beouf, for that matter, though his deep Southern-fried accent occasionally has me wishing that Curzon Home Cinema offered the option of subtitles for English language features (something they’re still working on).

Niggles aside, this is a delightful, heartwarming tale. We missed it’s recent cinematic release and here’s a welcome opportunity to catch up with it.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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