Anyone can tell a story.
How you tell it is often as important, if not more important, than the story itself.
When we talk about feel-good stories – tales that warm your heart and ease your mind – there’s a tendency for certain storytellers to emotionally manipulate their audience with a piece of dialogue, burst of somber music or a plethora of other ways.
When a movie comes along that is pure and genuine in its feel-good storytelling, that has to be celebrated.
Raw and unrefined, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a testament to the power of independent filmmaking.
Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz create a world that has an almost primal authenticity and tells a story so plainly that the lack of a saccharin sugar-coated texture feels infinitely refreshing.
The best feel-good stories are those that are genuine and authentic, often with a grit and edge that propels the story forward in unique and interesting ways.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” follows Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome and dreams of becoming a professional wrestler like his hero The Salt Water Redneck. After escaping from the retirement home he lives in, Zak makes his way through the great outdoors towards wrestling school with the help of a man on the run.
What holds “The Peanut Butter Falcon” together are a pair of unlikely performances that work incredibly well together.
Newcomer Zack Gottsagen steals scene after scene against much more famous costars as the earnest yet determined Zak.
Gottsagen infuses the character with a matter-of-fact naivety about the world outside his home that underlies how remarkably warm and genuine both the character and the actor are moment to moment.
Nilson and Schwartz crafted “The Peanut Butter Falcon” for Gottsagen after being drawn to his presence, which reverberates off the screen. It’s a perfect match of performer and screenplay.
Gottsagen’s strongest moments in the film are smaller, intimate conversations opposite Shia LeBeouf as fellow wayward traveler Tyler.
The bond the two actors are able to develop feels uniquely authentic as LeBeouf’s Tyler takes a mentorship role to Zak in much the same way audiences see Tyler’s older brother care for him in flashbacks.
LeBeouf is a terrific choice for Tyler as the troubled young actor seems to be pursuing a similar path of redemption amidst rebellion as the character he portrays. Presumptions about his real-life persona leak into audiences’ reaction to Tyler, making the journey his character takes with Zak all the more effective.
Dakota Johnson gives an admirable turn in a woefully underwritten part as Zak’s caretaker out searching for him while Zak and Tyler travel south. Her chemistry with LeBeouf doesn’t work nearly as well as either actor does opposite Gottsagen, who provides the emotional core of the film with his boundless heart.
The film is scattered with a number of wonderful smaller performances from the likes of Oscar nominees Bruce Dern and John Hawkes, former professional wrestlers Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Mick Foley and character actors Jon Bernthal and Thomas Haden Church that help to build the world of the film.
Though the screenplay certainly evokes Mark Twain, where a natural Americana truly sinks in is in the film’s visceral cinematography.
Much of the outdoor camerawork shines through a faded haze as if audiences are peering through panes of glass to watch Tyler and Zak on their Tom Sawyer-esque adventures.
Visually, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” reinforces the notion of wayward travelers as director of photography Nigel Bluck makes great use of the film’s wide scope to bring the expanses of the southeast U.S. coastline to life as a secondary character.
A true indie darling without the notoriety or star power to drive audiences to theaters, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” will likely be one of those underseen gems that viewers will find by happy accident on a streaming service one day.
Those who dare to take an adventure to their local cinema will be thoroughly satisfied with the raw simplicity of the filmmaking and charmed by Gottsagen’s winning performance.