Imagine Tom Sawyer but with a 23-year-old with Down syndrome and a down-on-his-luck southern kid who has lost his way heading out together to find a professional wrestling school.
If it sounds cheesy to you, rethink things. Peanut Butter Falcon is a wonderfully sweet movie that is not saccharine, never condescending, and possibly the best feel-good movie of 2019.
Zack Gottsagen is Zak, a young man with Down syndrome, whose family gave him up. As a result, the state determined he needs to live in a nursing home.
The problem is that Zak hates it there. As he tells the social worker who cares for him (Dakota Johnson as Eleanor), they are old and he is young and he does not belong there. He said he wants to have a future and will never have one living in a nursing home.
Because he tries to escape once, Eleanor labels him a flight risk and that is bad. He is now one strike away from being sent to a new rehab hospital with drug addicts and criminals. His roommate Carl (Bruce Dern) helps him escape in the middle of the night and the chase is on.
However, the head of the center refuses to report it to authorities even though Eleanor says they need to. Instead, he tells her to find him.
Before she finds him, Zak meets Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a young man on the run from some guys he ran afoul of when he was caught stealing their crab traps before burning the traps as revenge.
Tyler wants to go to Florida to start over and promises to take Zak to a professional wrestling school ran by a wrestler known as the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), although the matches Zak watched were on VHS and there is no telling how old they were.
With Eleanor needing to take Zak back and Tyler dead set on fulfilling his promise to get him to the wrestling school, a road trip with the backstory of the bad guys chasing Tyler is underway.
Forget everything you have read or heard about Shia LeBeouf over the past decade. This is the type of movie he is perfect in and this might be one of his best performances in many years. LeBeouf is magnificent as the tormented guy who has no idea what he wants from his life.
Gottsagen is also a marvel as Zak. He delivers his lines perfectly and is just so easy to cheer for, from the moments he chooses the wrestling name The Peanut Butter Falcon to the moments of fear and doubt. He is wonderful.
John Hawkes is also great as the bad guy chasing after Tyler for costing him thousands of dollars in the fire.
When the end comes, a magical moment happens that forces the viewers to suspend their sense of belief in the story, but the film is about fulfilling a dream in a professional wrestling ring, so that is expected.
With real-life wrestlers Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Mick Foley as part of the cast, it just ties a nice bow on that entire storyline.
The film is a magical journey, with Zak, Tyler, and Eleanor all missing something in their lives and finding it in each other. You likely know how it will end, but getting there is the fun part and Peanut Butter Falcon is well worth the journey.
Peanut Butter Falcon opened in limited release on August 9 and has been slowly rolling out across the United States, expanding to almost 1,000 theaters on the Aug. 23 weekend.