Landon Roberts, Contributing Writer
The American epic “Huckleberry Finn” captured the uniquely humorous essence of the Deep South post-Civil War through its look at the common man. This classic Twain tale now has received a modern retelling through the heartwarming but misguided “Peanut Butter Falcon.”
The film follows Zak, an adult with Down syndrome, who escapes from his care home to follow his dream of wrestling with his idol, The Saltwater Redneck, in North Carolina. During his escape, he stumbles upon Tyler, played by Shia LaBeouf, who is also running away from his life of crime and a man he wronged named Duncan.
Zak and Tyler form a brotherly bond that carries the entirety of the film, achieved through Zack Gottsagen’s performance as Zak. The actor, who also has Down syndrome, brings an infectious charisma to the entirety of the movie. Every scene he appears in is consumed by humor from his sharp comedic timing. The film treats the actor and character with an incredible amount of respect and never makes light of his disorder.
The pinpoint timing creates a chemistry between LaBeouf and Gottsagen that skates on the edge of improvisational, which creates an incredibly palpable bond.
Every moment of their training montage in the second act is joyous due to their chemistry, in turn, making their journey a highlight of the film.
The score and soundtrack create a character out of the swampy North Carolina coast. The bouncy pluck of the banjo as Zak and Tyler walk alongside train tracks is where the film hits the pure essence of Twain. The folky atmosphere and small town aesthetic are paired with an orchestra of acoustic tunes that echo back to a much simpler time.
All these aspects are entertaining and heartwarming, however, the plot itself has no idea where it is going. The film wants to focus on Tyler and Zak’s journey, but it constantly detours into backstory that adds nothing to the plot.
There is an entire subplot surrounding Tyler’s brother, Mark, that seems like it would bring meaning to the bond between him and Zak, but this thread just disappears near the beginning of the third act to focus on another meandering subplot.
The new plot surrounds Eleanor, played by Dakota Johnson, and comes off as a half-baked romantic interest. While Johnson turns in a decent performance, her character isn’t given much to work with. She is supposed to be Zak’s caretaker, however, the background of their bond is never explored. Instead we are force-fed an unnecessary romance.
The film falls apart in the third act. It mostly sticks to its Mark Twain journey idea, but finally reaches a rushed attempt at an ending. This rushed conclusion leads to a reliance on cliche and offers an incredible amount of cheese, especially during a wrestling scene in the final moments of the film.
A lot of this is due to the forced antagonist, Duncan. With no true bearing over the story, he acts only as a way to introduce plot conveniences to drag out their journey. If this character were completely removed, many of the film’s problems would have been resolved, which would have resulted in a tight, concise journey of self-discovery.
“Peanut Butter Falcon” finds its heart through its great casting, performances and portrayal of the small town culture Mark Twain was known for. However, the film fails to match Twain’s great storytelling.