The Peanut Butter Falcon is a new dramedy film written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz. The movie is about a boy with Down syndrome who embarks on a cross-country journey to meet his favorite wrestler, the Salt Water Redneck. It made its debut at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
Being that the film was made by first-time filmmakers as a starring vehicle for a disabled actor, the story of the movie is surprisingly strong. Most first-timers opt to make a film that is personal to them in some way, so the fact that this movie was made for someone else makes it all the more impressive. Yes, the story is rooted in many of the tropes and cliches that drive the road movie genre, but they are handled in a way that is still enjoyable and extremely compelling. The film is also far more successful at handling disability than many movies like this are.
One of the most impressive aspects of the film is the way in which it builds its world. This is an important factor in making the movie so grounded because people with disabilities do often experience the world in different ways than other people do. The surreal quality that the film has as a whole is very effective at doing this and makes the movie feel more honest and resonant. The way in which the Salt Water Redneck is developed over the course of the film is also extremely interesting and compelling, as it immerses you further into Zak’s world.
The pacing of the movie is quite strong, as it never slows down once it starts going. The film presents a series of escalating interactions in Zak’s journey. These interactions are both entertaining and meaningful, and the narrative does a great job of tying them together as a cohesive story. The movie has a very good balance between the humorous and heartwarming moments, keeping the film enjoyable throughout.
Another thing that the movie did extremely well was its character development. Zak is one of the most interesting and rounded disabled characters to be in any film in a very long time. He is given so much personality and feels so real, but that is because the role was literally designed for the actor. The supporting character, Tyler, is also extremely interesting. Tyler’s arc is very effective at supplementing Zak’s emotional journey, as Tyler shows a lot of growth of his own over the course of the movie.
The main reason why this film will see so much success, though, is its phenomenal ensemble. Obviously, Zack Gottsagen is wonderful in his lead role. The movie was designed for him and the writer-directors knew him personally, so his performance is extremely compelling and natural. He is complemented by a wonderful supporting cast including Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, and Bruce Dern. LaBeouf gives a phenomenal performance — one of the best of his career — with a ton of emotion and nuance.
The film is also quite strong on a technical level. The cinematography and editing are excellent, doing a lot to help give the movie the old-timey Huck Finn vibe for which it is going. Furthermore, the overall look of the film allow it to create the optimistic and fun tone that drives the narrative as a whole.
Overall, The Peanut Butter Falcon was a well-made and touching movie. As both a directorial debut and a passion project, the film is definitely impressive.
The Peanut Butter Falcon debuted at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.