Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz make their feature film debut co-directing a heart-warming story that captures the life of a man with down syndrome in his journey to find prosperity.

Peanut Butter Falcon explores the struggles of a 22-year-old man with down syndrome who has been living in a retirement complex as the last known member of his family. The story takes place in North Carolina and stars 35-year-old Zach Gottsagen as Zak.

We are immediately introduced to Zak who shares a room with an elderly man named Carl, and at times is treated like someone who can’t take care of himself. The character feels very trapped in his life and isn’t allowed to leave the facility.

Dakota Johnson plays a social worker named Eleanor, whose job is to take care of Zak. She gets to know him on a personal level and her demeanor is very sincere, but at times she treats Zak like a child, much to his chagrin.

The film also examines the tough life of a fisherman named Tyler who can’t stay out of trouble. Portrayed by Shia LaBeouf, Tyler is seen as someone who showed promise in his younger days. Flashbacks occur throughout the movie where he is seen as a happier person, laughing and smiling while he spends time with his older brother. In present day he finds himself in hot water after stealing crabs from other fisherman and burning their equipment. It is also implied that Tyler, like Zak, is the last member of his family.

The story connects Zak and Tyler who feel lost in their lives and are looking for something to hold on to. In Tyler’s case, it’s money and a stable job to support himself. He is also hellbent on leaving North Carolina after being roughed up by two fishermen, Duncan, played by John Hawkes, and Ratboy played by Yelawolf. The two antagonists are prone to violence and determined to punish Tyler after he messed with their livelihood.

Zak, on the other hand, has the desire to be a professional wrestler and a hero. He keeps a collection of wrestling tapes and watches them daily, yearning to attend a wrestling school in Florida owned by the “Saltwater Redneck,” his favorite wrestler.

The two characters connect after Zak escapes the retirement home and ends up sleeping under a tarp on Tyler’s boat. Initially Tyler is reluctant to help Zak, but quickly decides to bring him along after he sees Zak getting bullied and finds out both of them wish to make it to Florida.

The relationship blossoms during their journey consisting of Tyler acting as an older brother figure, treating Zak with the highest level of respect while simultaneously being hard on him. Zak learns survival skills and gains confidence that he didn’t have before.

Eleanor searches for Zak upon hearing about his escape. She exudes love and care for him even though they are not related. Jones’ performance in this role could very well be the best in her career.

I would have given 5 stars for the DVD, but the special features section is lacking. They do share “Zach’s Story” which briefly delves into how Nilson and Schwartz met Zach along with comments from the cast about their bond on set. But it’s only six minutes long and the only other feature is a photo gallery. Regardless, I feel this is a must-watch and wouldn’t be surprised if the film was nominated for an Oscar.


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