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The Peanut Butter Falcon •••••

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Reel Heroes & Villains
Greg Smith & Scott T. Allison
Reel Heroes Volume 1

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Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen
Director: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Screenplay: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Adventure/Comedy/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 97 minutes
Release Date: August 23, 2019

SPOILERS WITHIN!

 


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, I’m nuts over this latest movie.


I’m not surprised because Shia Labeouf is known for his nutty antics. Let’s recap:


We meet Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down Syndrome. He’s living against his will in a retirement home run by a woman named Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). One day he escapes, wearing only his tighty-whiteys. He makes his way down to the coast of Carolina where he hides under a tarp in the back of a small boat.


Ne’er do well fisherman Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) has been stealing crab traps and accidentally (on purpose) set his competitors’ dock on fire. He’s running away and jumps into his boat to escape. He is surprised to find Zack. Try as he might, he can’t get rid of Zak and the two become friends. Meanwhile, Eleanor has been directed to find young Zak. And so begins a sort of modern Huckleberry Finn story as Tyler floats on a raft with Zak as he tries to escape his angry fish mates and promises to take Zak to find the mythical “Salt Water Redneck” (Thomas Haden Church) who will teach Zak to be a professional wrestler – The Peanut Butter Falcon.


Greg, The Peanut Butter Falcon ranks among the best films of 2019. There are so many things I like about this movie that I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with the remarkable hero’s journey. Our two fugitive heroes are thrown together by circumstances, one of them (Zak) escaping the confines of a retirement home that constrains his growth, the other (Tyler) escaping punishment for arson. As is typical in buddy hero stories, they rub each other the wrong way at first but soon they grow close. Ultimately, they help each other transform into their true selves, their best selves — the selves they were meant to be.

Hero’s journeys such as these are powerful to behold for several reasons. First, they mirror the trials and vicissitudes of our own human life journeys. At times all of us find ourselves in trouble while chasing a dream or when fleeing dire circumstances. We discover that we need help from others, and we are surprised to find that this help often comes from the unlikeliest of sources. All of us are presented with life-defining moments that require a metamorphic change from us, a change that we never saw coming, a change that brings out our most resilient, courageous, and resourceful selves. We find love, and we find that we are worthy of love from others. We discover that we matter, and we let others know that they matter, too. As Joseph Campbell observed, our journeys bring us “in union with all the world.”

The Peanut Butter Falcon gives us a most miraculous story within the story: The acting of Zack Gottsagen, who has Down Syndrome and pulls off a performance here that is nothing short of breathtaking. Zack has earned an Oscar here in portraying a man who knows that he is destined for more than a life inside a prison-like institution. He literally squeezes through the bars of his imprisonment, naked before the universe (in his undies, actually), more than ready to confront whatever challenges he was designed to tackle and grow from. Both Zack the actor and Zak the character are forces to be reckoned with, and they shout at us to wake up and realize that we are all born to be forces to be reckoned with. None of us are put on this earth to sit at home playing on our e-devices; we’re meant to break free of whatever is holding us back and pursue our dreams, no matter how arduous the journey.


I agree with you Scott. This is a great film with great performances. Tyler is not the best person we’ve ever met. He’s plagued with guilt over having killed his brother in a car accident. The brother was a mentor for Tyler. And now Tyler takes on his brother’s role and becomes a mentor to young Zak.

We also meet Clint who is a washed up professional wrestler, at least he was 10 years ago. The video Zak has been watching was an ad Clint created to entice people to come to his wrestling camp. When Zak finally arrives, the camp has been closed for years and Clint is no longer “The Salt Water Redneck.” And yet, when he realizes Zak is a true believer in his alter ego, he dons the cape of the hero and trains Zak – becoming “The Salt Water Redneck” one more time.

We see here that Zak’s innocence and steadfastness bring out the best in the people around him. Tyler steps up to be the big brother Zak never had. Clint rediscovers the joy that he once knew in wrestling. Even Eleanor comes to recognize that the work she is doing isn’t serving Zak’s best interests.

The performance from Shia LaBeouf was surprising. I remember him from Disney’s Even Stevens, Holes, Transformers, and later the ill-fated India Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In recent years he’s taken on a cult status as a trouble-maker and, quite frankly, weirdo. But his performance in The Peanut Butter Falcon is sensitive bordering on tender. We develop a deep connection with Tyler that breaks our hearts when he dies. I expect Oscar nods for LeBeouf come January.


For me, Greg, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a true delight. There is no greater satisfaction than reading or watching stories about transformative growth, especially when it involves the unlikeliest of people being thrown together to help each other undergo such growth. The archetype of the journey is on powerful display here, especially given that we bear witness to a journey on many different levels – physical, social, emotional, and motivational. The Peanut Butter Falcon deserves Oscar consideration for Best Picture and I happily give it the full 5 Reels out of 5.

Our two buddy heroes are thrown together for a purpose, and they help each other grow in ways they never could have anticipated. I’ve heard it said many times that Down Syndrome individuals are among the most special and precious on the planet. They intuitively understand their spiritual place in the universe much more than the rest of us, and they have much to teach us. We see this in Peanut Butter Falcon and the resultant hero journeys are just fabulous to behold. I give our heroes the full 5 Hero points out of 5.

The messages of Peanut Butter Falcon are plentiful and rich. We learn that we must go after our dreams and help others reach their dreams. We learn that we can’t let physical or mental limitations deter us from chasing our dreams. Moreover, we’re taught to see ourselves and others as inherently good, as innately full of potential ready to be fulfilled. I give these inspirational message 5 Message points out of 5.

Movie: Message: Heroes:


We’re in rare agreement here, Scott. I feel a bit like Oprah Winfrey here: “You’re a Hero. And you’re a Hero. Everyone is a HeroBut it’s true. While this felt a lot like other buddy stories we’ve seen over the years (Rainman comes to mind) where getting someone out of the convalescence brings them to life. Zak becomes the change agent in every life he touches. Everyone becomes their best self when Zak steps into his circle of influence. I give Zak and Tyler 5 out of 5 Heroes.

I apologize for going out of order here – but the filmmaking and performances were also wonderful. This was an independent film first shown at South by Southwest and ultimately made over $12 million on a budget of $6.3 million. I give it 5 Reels out of 5.

In one of my favorite films, Tucker: A Man and his Dream, Martin Landau says “When I was a little kid, maybe five years old, in the old country, my mother used to say to me; she’d warn me, she’d say, “Don’t get too close to people. You’ll catch their dreams”. It’s so true. Everyone who comes in contact with Zak catches his dream and reignites the best in them. I give 5 out of 5 Message Points for people who follow their dreams, like Zak.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

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