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American Women's Club of Hamburg

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON - film review

Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz, USA

Being kept against his will at a retirement home—because of Down syndrome—Zak’s (Zack Gottsagen) passion is professional wrestling, and specifically The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church) whose video he tirelessly watches. Aspiring to emulate his hero, the 22-year-old is determined to attend Redneck’s wrestling boot camp. Equally, Carl’s (Bruce Dern) fed up with Zak’s infatuation, so helps his roommate escape. Concurrently, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a fisherman, is escaping archrival Duncan (John Hawkes) and sidekick Ratboy (Yelawolf) after his stunt backfires. So, both are on the lam from authorities when fate intervenes. In the meantime, Eleanor’s (Dakota Johnson) personal concern for Zak precipitates taking leave from work to attempt tracking him down, about the time Tyler’s early resistance subsides, alongside realizing Zak’s usefulness.

Along their quirky journey, and under Tyler’s tutelage, Zak learns hunting and gathering, to swim, and imbibe, whereby an unforeseeable bond forms. It strengthens at garrulous Blind Jasper John’s (Wayne Dehart) while building a raft. Then solidifies sailing the Outer Banks of North Carolina. When Eleanor shows up and with a contrary plan, together they dig in their heels; with little coercion, she joins the runaway rascals. Still, hard decisions have to be made, and scores need to be settled, but not before dreams are given a chance.

Co-writers-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s debut film is a funny, clever warm-hearted adventure for all ages. At its heart is personal self-confidence, and its soul is an individual’s dignity. LaBeouf, Johnson and Gottsagen’s chemistry resonates and sparkles onscreen, seamlessly blending with their characters; the seasoned veterans’ nuanced, easy performances underscore the film’s unconventional disposition. The film’s backstory accounts for its originality: the directors wrote it around Zack after meeting at a camp for disabled in 2011, and learning of his dream to be a movie star. That personal context in his character’s archetypical innocence elevates the script, and Zack’s personality lights up the film. Along the filmmaking journey, people they knew made allowances regarding permits, payments, and reduced costs for rights to well-known songs used.

Oftentimes, directors must metaphorically represent the story-arch’s pivotal point; in THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, it is unrivaled: the release, the freedom, and the resolution. To quote Carl: Friends are the family you choose. Nominated for the Art Cinema Award at FilmFest Hamburg, most surprising is it didn’t win. (MH)

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