Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Pursuing dreams: Tyler Nilson/Mike Schwartz's sweet adventure, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

Yes, it's determinedly feel-good. Yes, it's not entirely (or even mostly) believable. And, yes, it's sentimental as hell. Yet THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON -- as you've probably already heard via copious PR and maybe, by now, word-of-mouth, too -- is such a sweet movie, so well-acted and often just as well-written, and full of the kind of specificity regarding character and incident that will quickly turn you into a supporter, that the film passes the "worth-seeing" test and then some.

Best of all, it bestows on one of its leading characters, a Down Syndrome young man, more multi-faceted, full-bodied, positive/negative integrity than you usually find in narratives featuring this kind of special-needs character.

The movie's writers/directors -- Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, pictured at left, with Mr. Schwartz on the right -- have done just about as good a job as you can imagine of creating a low-budget-but-thoroughly-mainstream film in which much that you expect indeed happens. But it happens with enough charm, sweetness and just enough of the sour to make it palatable for intelligent movie buffs.

Plus, it boasts a very good cast -- leads to small roles -- starting with Shia LaBeouf, who, with American Honey and now this film, seems to have gotten both his career and mental health back on track. The actor (below) has grown from a gorgeous if gangly, pretty-boy youth

into a real man. His performance here, as an angry, on-the-run fisherman who haltingly befriends our Down Syndrome hero (who's also on the run) is a very fine one indeed. In fact, it's LaBeouf's strength and complete credibility that most holds this movie together.

The actor is helped, of course, by the rest of the fine cast, starting with newcomer Zack Gottsagen, (above, left), an actor who has Down Syndrome and makes the very most of his role of Tyler, gaining our sympathy with absolutely no special pleading. Granted, today's audiences are likely to be on his side, just as soon as his condition is made clear. But this actor makes that condition at once both canny and complete. He's as likely to get you angry as he is to win you over. He's funny and moving and every-moment-real -- even when the movie-makers are asking him, as at the finale, to go full-out fantasy.

The leading lady (who is Tyler's care-giver and must track the kid down once he runs away from the facility where he lives) is played by Dakota Johnson (above, left), who is as good here as she's been elsewhere. The supporting roles are taken by actors as superb and in-demand as Jon Bernthal (below, right), Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church and John Hawkes, all of whom, considering their small roles, must have been most taken by the story, script and theme.

Comparisons have been made to the "rafting" tales of Mark Twain, and it's a good bet that Mr. Twain would have himself appreciated this smart little movie. Resist it as you might, get ready to be sweetly trounced.

From Roadside Attractions and running just 93 minutes, The Peanut Butter Falcon -- after making a splash at festivals and opening to excellent reviews on either coast -- hits South Florida and elsewhere this Friday, August 23. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

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