Friday 21 February 2020


Out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from 24th February, The Peanut Butter Falcon continues the resurgence of Shia LaBeouf as an actor of merit. Here he plays Tyler, a down on his luck fisherman who teams up with Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down's syndrome who has run away from the care home he's forced to live in. Together they embark on an odyssey to help Zak achieve his goal of becoming a wrestler just like his idol, The Saltwater Redneck.

After finally managing to flee the old folk's home he's been forced to live in by the state, Zak has just one goal; track down his favourite professional wrestler, The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), and train with him at his wrestling school. Before his carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) can catch up with him, Zak meets Tyler (LaBeouf), also eager to get out of town to avoid the wrath of Duncan (John Hawkes), the rival fisherman whose crab pots he's been raiding. Travelling with the credo of "you keep stirring up shit, you're going to get yourself killed", they stick to the back roads and bayous that provide the safest passage to their destination.

It's impossible to deny that The Peanut Butter Falcon is a joyously sweet film, the highlight being the genuine bond that can be seen to grow between LaBeouf and Gottsagen, and not just their characters. LaBeouf has gone on record to state that his friendship with Gottsagen is one of the key factors in his return from the brink of becoming another former child actor cliche, and has helped him turn a corner away from some of his dark times. He even went so far as asking if Gottsagen could accompany him on stage at this month's Oscars; a generosity that seen Shia take some criticism for how he encouraged his friend on stage, but largely from people who aren't aware of the context of their relationship. Hopefully more will now track down this film to see how great an actor LaBeouf can be, and also how genuine their friendship is. One of the highlights of the film is a campfire bonding session between Zak and Tyler, as they drink moonshine and work on wrestling training, eventually giving rise to Zak's wrestling alter-ego of The Peanut Butter Falcon. It's a scene that in the wrong hands could have erred on the twee side, but it's a credit to first time feature directors Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz that it rings true.

LaBeouf is perfectly cast as the hot headed Tyler, angry at his brother's death and the system that's preventing him from earning a living, but also able to turn on the charm when he first meets Eleanor. He's an actor that not only bears physical scars from his dark period (two unignorable scars under his right eye, the result of self inflicted wounds he made during the production of Fury), but also carries with him a weight of trauma that's still not been properly unpacked (see Honey Boy for more on that). Tyler is a commanding character who, with Zak, sees the opportunity to be someone's big brother and the chance for him to help someone in need. Gottsagen is a solid performer drawing on his own life experiences, and Zak's position as a person with Down's syndrome is respectfully and movingly covered. Whereas Zak believes that achieving his dream of being a professional wrestler is possible, he thinks that people would only accept him as a bad guy due to his Down's syndrome. Although not a film that is trying to beat us over the head with a message, there's some questions you'll be left thinking about after the credits roll.

The tone shifts as the film moves from a two-header buddy movie into a makeshift family drama, with Johnson's Eleanor finding more comfort in being Zak's surrogate sister than reluctant mother figure, but this allows a healthy family dynamic to form ahead of the film's wrestling led finale. It's here that the film does dip its toe into magical realism territory, but hey, isn't that kinda what professional wrestling's all about anyway?


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