Two different boys journey along the Mississippi River, and they win our hearts.
It’s not often we get artisan films that are inspired by classic books like “Huckleberry Finn” and “Lord of the Flies” without having much violence. And it’s not often we have them discussing about Down syndrome without being offensive. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” has its heart in the right place, as it shows how some special people can be more than what stubborn people think of them. It even loathes the word “retarded,” and I apologize if I reminded some people of that word.
The movie is given a Huckleberry Finn spin as two characters from different worlds come together on Mississippi River. They’re Tyler (Shia Labeouf), a struggling crab fisherman, who lost his job, and Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a kid with Down syndrome, who dreams of becoming a professional wrestler like his idol-The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Even Tyler concludes this is a Mark Twain story.
The two develop a relationship, as they have their own issues. Tyler mourns the tragic death of his brother (Jon Bernthal), while Zak has been judged by people based on his disability. So, Tyler agrees to train him to fight.
He’s heading down to Florida, and agrees to take the kid along, just to drop him off at the wrestling school of his dreams. They have a few people after them-one meaner than the other. One is Tyler’s rival Duncan, who wants revenge on him for burning his crab cages, and the other is Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), the kind nursing home volunteer, assigned to find the escapee Zak. I’m not sure we needed the villain side, but the girl joining our heroes on their trek is quite necessary.
The reason for the title: “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” is because Zak decides to have an alter ego. There’s a scene when Tyler makes him wings out of branches, and when Zak rubs peanut butter on his face. Hence the name: “The Peanut Butter Falcon.”
LaBeouf has had some problems lately, but his performance in the movie is game changer. He’s fresh, he’s sincere, and he’s emotional. Gottsagen has the disability in real-life, and in this movie, he proves he’s a human. He’s funny, sweet, and damn perfect. And breaking free from that “Fifty Shades of Grey” crap, Johnson is able to prove to herself she is smart, and not an alien. And you also have some fine supporting work from Church, Hawkes, and Bruce Dern as Zak’s elderly roommate.
An entertaining scene for example is when Zak can’t swim, and Tyler has help him float across a river with black garbage bags and a rope. When a fishing boat is about to run them over, and Tyler has to pull the rope to save him, I think that’s the best scene of its kind since the train dodging scene in “Stand By Me.”
I admire how “The Peanut Butter Falcon” uses the classic literature to morph into the modern setting without jumping to conclusions. Written and directed by Tyler Wilson and Michael Schwartz, it fights cynicism with adventure, heart, comedy, and drama. There’s no such thing as normal, and that’s what this movie conveys.