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Film Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

21 October 19 words: George White

The Peanut Butter Falcon follows Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, as he escapes from his nursing home and goes on an adventure with out-of-luck crab fisher, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), and reluctant nursing home employee, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson)...

Director: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen

Running time: 97 mins

While Zak’s adventure takes place in the middle of nowhere, this film packs such heart and poignancy that it should be enjoyed and appreciated by people everywhere. With unique, moving and genuinely hilarious storytelling, as well as some gorgeous direction and fantastic performances from the entire cast, The Peanut Butter Falcon should have every chance of massive success come awards season.

From the off, the audience is shown Zak’s determination to escape the nursing home and pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler at a local wrestling school. Eventually, with the help of hilarious roommate Carl (Bruce Dern), Zak breaks free, setting up an emotional, heartwarming and thoroughly enjoyable pilgrimage with Tyler. Throughout their journey, the pair find themselves in a number of eventful and, at times, absurd situations, keeping the audience entertained from start to finish.

The subtlety and effectiveness of the film’s humour is a very pleasant surprise, and this is largely down to the fantastic comedic performance of Gottsagen. At no point does Gottsagen feel the butt of the joke; in fact, it is quite the opposite, with the actor displaying his comic ability with remarkable autonomy, nailing comedic beats with effective timing and an intoxicating sense of mischief. This film feels like a major step forward for representation in cinema, and Gottsagen deserves major credit for this.

The relationship between Zak and Tyler is delightful, with the two developing a striking brotherly dynamic that feels natural and honest. LaBeouf is excellent in the paternal role, with his sharp line delivery and ability to provide both charm and vulnerability making this one of the most powerful performances of the year. The character of Tyler has an impressive level of depth, and LaBeouf portrays this excellently, delicately displaying Tyler’s inner troubles and how that influences his approach towards Zak. As the film progresses, the two become inseparable, and the audience becomes enchanted by the friendship that evolves between the duo.

While the story is the main appeal of the film, there are multiple instances where you find yourself simply appreciating the beauty of the movie’s production

Later in the story, this duo becomes a trio, as Eleanor joins in on the adventure. Where this character could have simply been inserted as an easy romantic interest for Tyler, Eleanor does far more than that - challenging him over his approach to Zak and forcing him into confronting his own insecurities, which leads to some touching moments of introspection between the couple. Johnson’s understated yet influential performance is perhaps one of her best, establishing an engrossing connection with both main characters while developing an interesting character of her own.

The trio’s adventure is beautifully captured by directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, whose artistry behind the camera provides a stunning visual spectacle for this reserved and intricate story. The cinematography is majestic, with Nilson and Shwartz utilising the miraculous potential of the United States’ rural landscape to full effect. While the story is the main appeal of the film, there are multiple instances where you find yourself simply appreciating the beauty of the movie’s production, with several shots feeling like potential laptop screensavers due to the aesthetically striking camerawork. The visual elegance of the film is complemented by an enchanting score, which effectively underpins the film’s most delicate moments, helping to bring you that bit closer to tears during these impactful emotional beats.

With moving storytelling, remarkably charming performances and impressive production quality, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a memorable independent film that packs a bigger punch than its relatively tiny budget should allow. The importance of the movie for positive and diverse representation cannot be overstated, and its tremendous poignancy and heart makes it one of the most enjoyable films of the year. Expect this small production to have a big impact in the upcoming awards season.

Did you know? Zack Gottsagen ad-libbed the answer "Party" when he was asked for the first time by Tyler what rule number one is.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 31 October

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