I love that this indie movie cast an actor with Down syndrome, to play Zak, who has Down syndrome. It’s also great that they got a cast that included Dakota Johnson, Shia LeBouf, Bruce Dern, and Thomas Hayden Church as wrestler Salt Water Redneck.
The film has one of those problems a lot of movies have with bad guys. They make them so deplorable, you can never warm up to them. Shia LaBeouf plays a fisherman (Tyler) that steals and is selfish. He also burns down the equipment of the angry fishermen that confronted him; one of them being played by John Hawkes, and if Shia had seen him in Winter’s Bone…I’m guessing he wouldn’t have done that. The other heavy is played by rapper Yelawolf, who is also rather scary.
Zak, who has Down syndrome, is living in an old folks him and he keeps trying to make a break for it. Even though a nurse (Dakota Johnson) is great to him, and so is his roommate (Bruce Dern, who has a few great lines), he’s not happy there. He watches tapes of a wrestling school that the Salt Water Redneck runs, and he wants to attend (they’re like the Art of Self Defense meets Brigsby Bear).
This is the feature debut from Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson, who penned and directed this together. They cast Zack Gottsagen after meeting him at a camp for actors with disabilities. He does just fine with his lines, and it was smart how they made his character. He wasn’t the butt of jokes, and it was sweet how Shia’s character warms up to him, despite those elements being derivative. It’s just a shame the script wasn’t sharper. My wife and I were hating every second of this movie. Other than Dern in the beginning, it was offering nothing. Not until the 3rd act, when the wrestler Zak has been obsessed with after watching old VHS tapes, enters the picture. It’s after the typical buddy road trip shenanigans, none of which were amusing. Oh wait, a store clerk at a bait shop that looked like a character out of a Coen brothers picture, was a bit of fun.
The movie has a Mark Twain vibe, perhaps mixed with an Of Mice and Men element, if I want to add another literary reference.
There was one scene with the guys showing up to a shack that has a blind, African-American preacher who is firing a gun at them and talking like he just got off a plantation. It’s easily one of the worst scenes I’ve seen this year.
What made things surprising is that the 3rd act is actually heartwarming, funny, and a blast. Sure, they’re predictable, but they’re fun. You’ll wish the whole movie was like that final half hour.
The Peanut Butter Falcon…sounds more like the name of a ‘60s band. It feels like it was written by a 60-year-old that has never seen a movie before; or…has seen too many movies and decides to poach cliches from them all.
The cast has great chemistry together. It’s just a shame a better script wasn’t provided.
1 ½ stars out of 5.
Don’t be fooled by critics that feel they have to give this a good review because it cast someone with a disability. It’s great that the filmmakers did that, but it doesn’t mean it’s a great movie.