Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, a young actor with Down syndrome named Zack Gottsagen, and a couple of wrestling legends in Mick Foley and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts make up the unique tale that is The Peanut Butter Falcon. If Fighting With My Family was the in-depth, slightly “Hollywood” made wrestling film of 2019, The Peanut Butter Falcon was the much grittier side of an unlikely individual dreaming of becoming a professional wrestler.
The film tells the tale Zak (Gottsagen), who is a 22-year-old, living at a retirement home where his friend/carer Eleanor (Johnson) works. Zak’s dream is to become a professional wrestler, after obsessively watching a wrestling tape of his favourite wrestler the Salt Water Redneck, and upon escaping the retirement home, he meets a rebel fisherman, Tyler (LaBeouf), who is also on the run, and the two then set out on a trip to Salt Water’s wrestling school.
We start by seeing Zak in the retirement home, kindly interacting with the lunch lady and Eleanor. However, Zak then attempts to escape after giving his pudding to an elderly lady who pretends to have a medical emergency, but shortly after running out, a guard spears Zak to the ground. Tyler is then shown fishing on illegal waters and later being turned away by the local crabbers due to his illegal activity. The opening of the film is very effective as we establish our key characters, their goals, and the fact Zak is a daring, charismatic, and sharp character, despite his condition.
Once Zak successfully breaks out of the retirement home, he ends up on a boat with Tyler, who is also fleeing from two rough crabbers, after burning twelve-thousand dollars worth of equipment. Once Zak and Tyler come together, the film really takes off and Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s excellent writing, and the incredible performances are on full display for the audience.
LaBeouf and Gottsagen’s chemistry is superb, and the interactions between their characters feel as genuine as anything you’ll see in a film. It’s highlighted by a scene in which there is little dialogue between the two, and through their actions and facial expressions, they tell the story. As they sit on a boat together, Zak puts his arm around Tyler and tells him he is going to give him all his “wishes” for his birthday, and the two then come together, while Zak consoles his friend. It’s one of the standout moments in Peanut Butter Falcon because it is heart-warming, and it beautifully showcases the endearing qualities of Zak’s character, as well the friendship between the two. Also, through Zak taking over and caring for his friend, whereas it was previously Tyler that took care of Zak, we see the evolution of their characters.
The performances by LaBeouf, Gottsagen, and Johnson are incredible. Gottsagen is a scene-stealer almost every time out, and the confidence in which he delivers his lines is a treat for audiences. Johnson is a mesmerizing beauty in Peanut Butter Falcon, but this is purely through her character’s caring nature, as opposed to dressing like a “leading lady.” The troubled and hard-nosed character of Tyler felt like a perfect fit for LaBeouf, as at times it was hard to distinguish whether LaBeouf was showing us the “real” him, or the “reel” him.
In addition to the authentic performances, the film itself is grounded in reality, and that comes through in the wrestling part of the story as well. Instead of our characters exploring the high-end world of WWE, Zak, and co. meet much older figures in wrestling, and indulge in what wrestling fans would call “the independent scene.” Plus, the addition of WWE Hall of Famers Mick Foley and Jake Roberts certainly helps people believe in the wrestling scenes.
Nilson and Schwartz, the writers and directors of this film, have done an outstanding job piecing this story together. The pair’s use of reincorporation is incredibly effective, in particular when Zak and Tyler are talking about wrestling characters, and Zak asks Tyler if he is a “good guy” or “bad guy,” a link back to an early scene where an older fisherman tells Tyler to improve himself as a person. It’s expertly woven into a conversation about the fictionalized world of wrestling but then comes directly back to the character’s real problems and struggles.
From a technical standpoint, cinematographer Nigel Bluck also deserves a great deal of praise for his work, capturing the relationship between two main characters. Early on in the film, we see a variety of long shots, and even a bird’s eye view shot of the distance between the characters while they are walking. It shows us how distant our characters are, emotionally and physically. However, as the film progresses, so does their relationship, and we begin to see the distance between the two becoming shorter and shorter. It’s one of the many subtle techniques used to enhance the narrative.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of those rare films where it is hard to pinpoint many negatives. The cast and crew have all risen to the occasion to create something special. Nilson and Schwartz have created a film very much grounded in reality. Although they have still somehow left us with that fairytale feeling of anything and everything is possible no matter what others think you can or cannot accomplish.
Dir: Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
Scr: Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern
Prd: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
DoP: Nigel Bluck
Runtime: 98 Minutes
Signature Entertainment presents The Peanut Butter Falcon on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital from 10th February