The Peanut Butter Falcon Review

The stand out element of The Peanut Butter Falcon is the fresh face in front of the camera. Star Zack Gottsagen – a 33 year old with Down Syndrome – plays Zak, is one of the few disabled cinema leads. The film was even designed as a vehicle for Gottsagen after directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz discovered the actor, basing the film’s premise around his dreams to be an actor. The only difference in the film is his new dream as a professional wrestler. And through Gottsagen, as well as his co-star Shia Labeouf, the two manage to take a modern-day Huck Finn story, and create a funny, sweet, and charming buddy comedy as a result.

The Peanut Butter Falcon and His Sidekick

Buddy films succeed through the chemistry of the two lead actors. Peanut Butter Falcon is no exception. While the story of two opposites going on an adventure and learning and bonding is familiar, both actors know how to make the story work. LaBeouf as the crab fisherman Tyler is an absolute joy. He starts out the film wanting nothing to do with Zak’s dream, but slowly pulls his guard down. The growth is seamless, and that’s thanks to LaBeouf’s acting. He has such great energy, and gives the story needed emotional weight.

But it is Gottsagen who really makes the film what it is, and makes the film a true breath of fresh air. In the current discussion about representation in the film industry, disabilities are oft-ignored. Very often, able-bodied or neurotypical actors end up playing characters with physical or mental disabilities. Said actors can do decent work with the material, but Gottsagen shows why representation matters. He brings so much natural charisma to the role that could not be replicated by a non-Downs actor.

Zack Gottsagen (left) and Shia LaBeouf (right) in The Peanut Butter Falcon
Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions

The film also manages to make Zak a fully-fleshed character rather than a prop. A weaker film would use him as a sign of pity or used to create a preachy and overbearing message. Instead, Nilson and Schwartz allow Gottsagen to be his normal charming self. It definitely does not shy away from the issues Zak and other Downs people face. But the audience is still able to identify and enjoy Zak as a funny, strong, and warm-hearted figure.

The World of the South

Similar to Huck Finn, the heroes find themselves meeting a slew of interesting characters during their travels. This includes Dakota Johnson as Eleanor, a social worker who tries to take Zak back to his nursing home, but later helps him in his adventure. She brings needed emotion and is an entertaining foil. The other side characters are great as well, thanks to the stellar character actors and even professional wrestlers on screen. Thomas Haden Church as a washed-up wrestler The Salt Water Redneck in particular is an absolute riot.

Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, and Zack Gottsagen star in The Peanut Butter Falcon
Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions

It’s also through the setting the characters are able to have plenty of great experiences and lead to many great moments. Nilson and Schwartz manage to give so much energy to each key scene, also helped by Nigel Bluck’s cinematography. It’s through these actors, the story, the world, and the crew the film is so entertaining and so likable.

Final Verdict

While writing this Peanut Butter Falcon review, I was excited, knowing this movie could become an impactful one for its creatives. Not only is it a great start for directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, but it introduced a charming lead with Zack Gottsagen. This team-up resulted in a sweet, likable film that has plenty of laughs and emotion, and is a true crowdpleaser.