[Screen It]


(2019) (Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen) (PG-13)

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Drama: A desperate man on the run ends up taking care of and then bonding with a young man with Down Syndrome who simply wants to attend a professional wrestling school.
Zak (ZACK GOTTSAGEN) is a young man with Down Syndrome who's lived in a senior citizen facility for the past two and a half years with his elderly roommate, Carl (BRUCE DERN). Zak was placed there under the care of Eleanor (DAKOTA JOHNSON) due to having no family, but all he wants is to get out so that he can attend wrestling school taught by his professional wrestling idol, Clint, a.k.a. The Saltwater Redneck (THOMAS HADEN CHURCH).

He finally manages to escape and ends up hiding in a small boat owned by Tyler (SHIA LaBEOUF), a desperate man looking for work and who's resorted to stealing crabs from others' traps. That doesn't sit well with Duncan (JOHN HAWKES) and Ratboy (YELAWOLF) who beat him up and then later give chase when he sets their traps on fire. He manages to elude them, but is surprised to find Zak along for the ride, and while he initially wants nothing to do with him, memories of his bond with his late brother, plus seeing Zak having to contend with bullies making fun of his condition softens up Tyler's stance.

And when he has a run-in with Eleanor and learns that Zak is on the lam just like him, the two end up as kindred spirits. From that point on, and while Eleanor tries to find Zak and Duncan and Ratboy try to find and get their revenge on Tyler, he promises to get Zak to that wrestling school while on his way to Florida.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
A long, long time ago in a childhood now far, far away, my friends and I started writing our own comic books. I distinctly remember a certain summer day where we sat in the backyard and brainstormed ideas for superhero character names.

I don't recall the final list now that it's been nearly half a century gone by, but I distinctly remember it being sort of a land grab endeavor in that each of us was racing to lay claim to names based on what was in our immediate visual field, thus Tree Man, Fence Man, Grass Man and such were quickly introduced and claimed before likely being put on waivers soon thereafter.

Of course, comic books aren't the only place where alter ego names exist, with professional wrestling being a prime example. I can imagine kids of the present or past likewise sitting around and coming up with creative or exotic monikers. In "The Peanut Butter Falcon," such a brainstorming session is of the impromptu rather than planned variety, and those participating are older than usual, while some moonshine is also involved.

As is some terrific storytelling and strong performances in this mismatched buddy road trip offering that, so far, is one of the better offerings of 2019. Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, the story revolves around a man (Shia LaBeouf in a terrific performance) who's having troubles making ends meet and thus has taken to stealing crabs from other fishermen's crab pots. When that results in a physical altercation between him and two miffed men (John Hawkes and Yelawolf), he ends up speeding away in his small boat, unaware of a stowaway hiding beneath a tarp.

And that would be Zak (Zack Gottsagen, making his feature film debut), a young man with Down Syndrome who's escaped from the senior citizen home where he's lived for the past two-plus years under a court order due to having no family to care for him.

His roommate (Bruce Dern) has encouraged him to go for his dreams and thus helps facilitate his "escape." That like stems, at least in part, to him having grown tired, and then some, of having to watch an old promo video where a professional wrestler known as the Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church) encourages would-be wrestlers to attend his wrestling school.

While Tyler initially wants no part of Zak, he feels a bit sorry for him (seeing how he's bullied) and his presence makes him recall good bonding times with his now-deceased brother (Jon Bernthal). With the school being on the way to Florida from North Carolina's Outer Banks, Tyler decides to take Zak with him and drop him off along the way.

Thus begins their adventurous trip on foot and makeshift raft through less-traveled roads and waterways of the American Southeast. What starts as an odd couple pairing (designed for light comedy) eventually turns sweet and poignant as the two men end up bonding in a sibling sort of way (similar to that, albeit with differences, as Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman's characters did in "Rain Man"). At the same time, the two fishermen continue to hunt for Tyler, while Zak's senior home caretaker (Dakota Johnson) searches for him, lest she likely lose her job.

Not surprisingly, she ends up joining them on their quest that ends up so engaging, lovely and touching that you sort of hate having them eventually reach their destination. Thankfully, the filmmakers throw a third-act monkey wrench into those plans, thus keeping the happily ever after ending at least a little bit in doubt. That said, and despite my general dislike of sequels, I'd sort of like to see what happens to these characters as their journey continues as the end credits roll.

Hopefully that won't happen, as it's best to delegate that to the viewer's imagination and thus leave them wanting more but withholding that. Pretty terrific from start to finish, "The Peanut Butter Falcon" might not have ever made our childhood short-list of character names, but it makes for an entertaining storytelling experience. The film rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed August 22, 2019 / Posted August 23, 2019

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