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Movie Review: 'The Peanut Butter Falcon'


In The Peanut Butter Falcon, Zak is a man with Down syndrome, living in a nursing home in North Carolina. He dreams of attending a wrestling school run by his favorite pro wrestler, the Salt Water Redneck, which he knows about from obsessively watching a decades-old videotape he owns. And so, he escapes in the dead of night to make his way the couple hundred miles or so to where he knows the school is supposed to be.

He quickly runs into Tyler, played by Shia LeBeouf, who himself is on the lam after a disastrous run-in with some local fishermen. And while Tyler is at first pretty uninterested in dealing with Zak, he soon makes the decision to help him find the Salt Water Redneck.

The actor Zack Gottsagen plays Zak with a wry humor and a determination that’s very attractive, and it’s not hard to see why Tyler would want to help him. For his part, LaBeouf is thoroughly believable as a poor, probably not too-well-educated man struggling to find his own direction while wrestling serious demons, and the two make what turns out to be a not-actually-surprising pair.

As Zak and Tyler travel down the backwoods rivers and sun-drenched open waters of the North Carolina coast, The Peanut Butter Falcon takes on the feeling of what we might think of as a quintessential piece of Americana, bordering on folklore. The pacing is measured, though not slow, as our heroes enter and leave the lives of various colorful characters, and there may even be a tiny bit of magic. And yes, two outcasts on the run, floating on a raft down the river must be a nod to, well, probably exactly what you think it is.

The movie can be plenty serious, and acknowledges life’s real difficulties, especially for those living in poverty. But it’s also terribly sweet and appeals to something inside us that we grew up loving. And one thing it’s not, mercifully in this day and age, is cynical.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.