REVIEW: “The Peanut Butter Falcon” ★★★★ and ½

Smart, funny, and filled with memorable performances, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” promises heart in its premise and never fails to deliver.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is as heartwarming a film as any to arrive in theaters this year.

Smart, funny, and filled with memorable performances, it promises heart in its premise and never fails to deliver.

What’s it about?

For much of its length, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” focuses on two young men on the lam who on the surface could not seem more different.

Zak (Zak Gottsagen, in his on-screen debut), is an escapee from a nursing home with Down syndrome and a dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is on the move looking for a fresh start after a devastating personal loss and some subsequent dangerous life decisions.

Tyler literally stumbles upon Zak while trying to slip away from the consequences of one of those bad decisions. After that awkward start, he agrees to help Zak with the only thing the kid wants: to get to the professional wrestling school run by his idol, the Salt Water Redneck.

However, Zak’s got someone on his trail, too. His kind and dutiful caseworker, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), just wants what’s best for Zak, though she admits the system hasn’t been great for him so far.

Eventually, she joins Zak and Tyler on their backwoods adventure. Together, the three forge a unique bond, all the while getting closer to fulfilling Zak’s lifelong goal.

The Peanut Butter Falcon movie poster

Casting carries the day

There are so many things about “The Peanut Butter Falcon” that may surprise audiences if they give it a chance. Let’s start with the film’s central character, played by Zak Gottsagen.

Filmmakers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz developed the film for Gottsagen, who in real life lives with Down syndrome. Gottsagen runs with the opportunity, showing emotional range, on-screen presence, and charisma. He wins you over from the moment you meet him.

Then there’s Shia LeBeouf. Despite memorable work in a number of critically acclaimed films in recent years (“American Honey“, “Fury“, “Lawless“), he remains a polarizing A-list Hollywood star.

Perhaps his work here will begin to change that. His gruff line delivery and haunted countenance run counter to the youthful, motormouth persona LeBeouf is arguably best known for. He brings compelling gravity to Tyler — you really feel for him, and for whatever reason LeBeouf has had trouble throughout his career delivering characters that have that effect.

Johnson, as well, delivers a thoroughly likable turn that may surprise her critics. She projects in Eleanor quiet strength and conviction that in its own way is as appealing as Tyler’s outlaw-with-a-heart-of-gold.

Worth seeing?

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” does have a few minor editing and pacing issues. Scenes at times transition and you get the feeling either you’ve missed something or a plot beat was left on the editing room floor.

Regardless, it’s a quietly beautiful and entertaining film. Oh, and longtime wrestling fans should definitely take some time to see this one — a few legends of WWE lore show up in fun supporting roles, part of the colorful collection of characters our unlikely heroes meet along the way.

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Starring Shia LeBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zak Gottsagen. Directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz.

Running time: 93 minutes

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language throughout, some violence and smoking.

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