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“The Peanut Butter Falcon” delivers a heartwarming drama

Updated: Jun 8, 2022


Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) a scruffy fisherman who's on the run with Zak (Zack Gottsagen) a young man with Down syndrome and Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a kind nursing home worker whose mission is getting Zak back to the residential home.

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Blu-ray and Digital copy; 2019, PG-13 for thematic content, language, violence, smoking; Streaming Amazon Prime Video, Apple, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: Making-of documentary

“THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON” would be a sweet, big-hearted fairytale of a movie, had it not tried to present itself as anything besides a fairytale. A first feature for co-writers and directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, the film offers a notable cast that includes Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, and Thomas Haden Church.

But the real focus of its story is a young man with Down syndrome named Zack Gottsagen. Zak (Gottsagen) is a 22-year-old living in a North Carolina nursing home. He’s obsessed with wrestling, thanks to an old VHS tape he watches repeatedly, which promotes a school run by a wrestler named Salt Water Redneck (Haden Church). Eleanor (Johnson) is a gorgeous caretaker at the nursing home who’s particularly protective of Zak. He’s been deemed a flight risk since he takes off running at every opportunity.

One night, Zak succeeds in his escape, when his elderly roommate (Dern) pries open the iron bars (right?) over the window. Zak takes shelter for the night in a boat belonging to Tyler (LaBeouf), a scruffy loser who makes his living selling crabs he steals out of someone else’s pots. When the understandably furious, scary-looking owners of the crab pots find out, they want compensation (or revenge). Before they can get it, Tyler sets fire to their pots and is now a hunted man. And then he realizes he’s got Zak for company. So, after a brief rejection, he (what else?) lets Zak stay with him, and they’re soon getting along like gangbusters.

(1) Several times a day Zak and his roommate Carl (Bruce Dern) watch an old VHS tape of his favorite pro wrestler, the fearsome “Salt Water Redneck” (Thomas Haden Church). (2) Eleanor has labeled Zak a “flight risk” after he planned an escape with the help of an elderly lady. (3 & 4) Carl orchestras Zak's final escape and suggests rubbing butter over his body so he can slide through the bars. (5) Eleanor can't believe it.


We know this, thanks to an overabundance of montages, with shots of Tyler teaching Zak to use a shotgun, helping him train to be a wrestler, and the two (so help me) having a food fight with watermelon and wearing the rinds on their heads like helmets. Meanwhile, Eleanor is frantically searching for Zak, since she’s been told by the mean nursing home director that her job depends on it. If you can’t guess the rest of this outrageously contrived and implausible story, imagine the most unlikely outcome.

In addition to the heavy-handed Mark Twain references, we get a little something from “The Odyssey” when Zak and Tyler encounter a generous blind man who insists on baptizing them in a river, while offering valuable life lessons for their journey. What makes “Peanut Butter Falcon” bearable is excellent cinematography and a terrific score, comprised of old-timey folk, bluegrass and gospel tunes, including a couple by the great Staples Singers. Nilson and Schwartz should certainly be commended for doing something daring – and trying very hard to make it work, but there was too much suspension of disbelief for me.

Meanwhile, many viewers, especially those who have children with Downs Syndrome, love it. So do critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, “Peanut Butter Falcon” received exceptional ratings of 95 percent and audiences 96 percent.

The Lionsgate Films Blu-ray and digital copy look very good, with natural skin tones, nicely saturated color, and ample contrast to provide lots of detail. The outdoor scenes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks especially often look quite beautiful. The HD soundtrack is also fine, with effects realistic and well-balanced, the music lending some wonderful atmosphere, and all dialogue crisp and clear. 

The only extras on the disc are a photo stills gallery and a brief making-of featurette. Nilson and Schwartz describe their discovery of Gottsagen at a summer camp for people with disabilities. Gottsagen stood out from the rest and sparked their imagination when he declared he wanted to be a movie star. When the writers came up with their concept and did some screen tests of Gottsagen, they sent it to the actors who would eventually agree to co-star in the film. Dern says his reaction was that he “felt that this whole thing had a chance to be lightning in a bottle.” Hawkes calls the script “a piece of magic.” LaBoeuf says he and the other actors “felt like a big family of misfits,” and calls Gottsagen “one of the purest, most intensely good people I’ve ever known.”

— Peggy Earle

(1&2) Tyler a crabber on the Outer Banks of North Carolina - filmed in Georgia during 2017 - has been stealing blue crabs from the pods of fellow crabbers. (3-5) Duncan (John Hawkes) confronts Tyler about the crime. Then Tyler sets Duncan's pods on fire and the chase is on.


(1) Tyler is surprised when Zak pops up inside the boat during the chase. He tries to keep him quiet so Duncan won't find them. (2-4) Eventually, Tyler and Zak run out of gas and abandon the boat and head on an adventure with shades of Mark Twain's “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”


(1) Eleanor finds Tyler and Zak and tries to convince them that Zak needs to return to the nursing home. But, Tyler tells Eleanor they're heading to the home of “Salt Water Redneck.” (2 -4) The three continue the adventure on a raft and bump into "Blind" Jasper John, (a cameo from Wayne Dehart), a backwoodsman who baptists Jak in the river.


(1&2) Zak finally meets Salt Water Redneck, who takes him and the rest of the gang to an outdoor wrestling ring. (3&4) In the fairy tale ending Zak gets his dream to wrestle and enters the ring as the Peanut Butter Falcon. He takes down former WWF wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts. (5) Zak and Tyler.




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