Alex Donaldson, Contributor.
Part of the beauty of film is each and every one has the ability to convey different emotions within us. Sometimes films can be crowd pleasing and used simply as a method of escaping from the busyness of life, and sometimes they can take difficult themes and create a story that remains with you even after leaving the cinema. In some cases, a film can achieve both and that statement is no truer than with 2019’s The Peanut Butter Falcon, a film that gained a lot of attention and acclaim at this year’s South by Southwest Festival.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a comedy drama film about a young man with Down syndrome named Zak (Zack Gottsagen) who dreams of one day becoming a professional wrestler and consequently runs away from his nursing home and his carer (Dakota Johnson). He forms an unlikely friendship with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a troubled outlaw and fisherman who becomes his coach and motivator.
The films lead (Zack Gottsagen) is a worthy rising star and surely someone we will see again. He provides a performance with incredible comedic timing as well as heartfelt sincerity, blending the two together perfectly to create an interesting and charming character, rather than being used just as a metaphor. His end goal of finding his favourite wrestler, nicknamed The Salt Water Redneck, in order to take part in his wrestling school, drives him on his journey. Gottsagen is more than capable of conveying the necessary emotions required to sell that desire to the audience.
As well as Gottsagen, Shia LaBeouf provides an exceptional performance adding depth to his character while reigning it in at the correct times in order for Gottsagen to shine. His character provides an extra level of internal conflict to the film. Both are running away from something in order to find something better. While Zak knows exactly why he is running and where to, Tyler, for much of the film, lacks any real direction or end goal. He is simply trying to escape from a past full of strenuous ordeals and through every expression, he makes us believe the pain and guilt he’s feeling. Slowly but surely, the arrival of Zak into his life allows him to find a purpose he can pursue. It allows the film to become more than just two characters on an adventure.
The difficult theme of disability is handled sensitively and sincerely. While the film is full of laughs and never fails to put a smile on your face, it constantly stays focused on its difficult subject matter and portrays it in a realistic and emotionally cathartic way.
Despite the inclusion of a subplot that perhaps resulted in more screentime than necessary, the driving main plot always remains engaging and heartfelt. It will be interesting to see what co-directors and writers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz provide us with next after creating a wonderfully poignant and loveable film.