Shia Labeouf is back in The Peanut Butter Falcon, to give us another heartwarming performance. Labeouf plays Tyler, a trapper whose life is falling apart. His entire personality is tinged with a layer of sadness as palpable as the dirt on his shirt. His co-star, Zack Gottsagen, plays Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome living in a nursing home. The two characters are nothing alike, one angry at the world, the other trapped by it. What they do have in common however, is the hurt their situations give them.
The Peanut Butter Falcon picks up with Tyler, escaping a (literal) blaze of crime and Zak, escaping the nursing home. It takes no time for the pair to inevitably meet and together they set out on a misadventure through the rural south together. The Peanut Butter Falcon is a modern, but more importantly, touching retelling of the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
What is most striking to me about The Peanut Butter Falcon is its ability to so softly translate love from the screen to its audience, effortlessly. Tyler has a set of rules he adheres to as result, his tolerance for other people close to non-existent. And yet, weaved into his character, from the flashbacks of his brother to the way he lets Zak join him without a moment of hesitation, Tyler is full of a raw amount of love. Tyler goes as far as to warn Zak that he’ll leave him if Zak slows him down, an empty threat, if that. Instantaneously, the two get along so well, that it melts right through Tyler’s hard and rugged outer shell. The pairs interactions reveal who he truly is, someone willing to do anything for the people he loves.
Zak in every way is impossible not to love. He is naive, sure, but he also has dreams that he refuses to give up on. When he shares these dreams of going to Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school, Tyler can’t hide his grin. His own escape plans become intertwined with Zak’s immeadiately. A Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer sort of brotherhood bond created between the two. Zak tells Tyler that they’re going to be best friends who hang out, chill, and of course, party.
When Dakota Johnson’s character, Eleanor, is thrown in to the mix, we are given a new element of love. The chaotic energy between the two is impossible not to revel in and enjoy. Their constant back and forth banter brings a sort of tension to the film, outside of Zak and Tyler’s adventure.
There is a gratifying fantastical element to the climax of the film as Zak does the impossible. The slow-motion heave, over his head, intercut with the snap shot like stills of the men who want Tyler’s head, is panic inducing. It is such a heart-warming moment as Zak fulfills his dream of being a wrestler. The moment reflects so purely, on Tyler’s own face, his fate is known to all but himself. Labeouf’s performance was enough to, and did, bring me to tears that did not stop until the end of the film.
Nilson and Schwartz managed to perfect the art of the unknown in the ending sequence of the film. As the camera stood unmoving from where Zak waited in the emergency room, the theater was silent. Except of course, for the sniffles of me and all of the seniors in that Tuesday afternoon showing. The suspense and tension only grows as we wait with Zak to learn what Tyler’s condition is. I sat bleary eyed as Zak celebrated his birthday with a cupcake. As he blows out his candles and says,”Tyler, I am going to give you all of my birthday wishes”, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. And with one clean fade, we are thrown from one harrowing location to the next; a car with only Zak and Eleanor.
The only word for how it felt to have my worst fears affirmed in that moment, is horror. The characters say nothing, the camera instead doing all of the talking. As Eleanor and Zak talk the audience stares into the back seat, eerily empty. With tears running down my face, seconds away from full on sobbing, I felt true heartbreak. The timing Nilson and Schwartz implement throughout the film is beyond perfect. When Tyler sits up in that dreamy, laid back way, all you can do is laugh until you stop crying, his presence a relief.
Maybe, it had something to do with that innocent, knowing Shia LaBeouf smile, a staple among the things I love. Or perhaps it was knowing that the three of them would be evading the law just for a little longer. Either way, the Peanut Butter Falcon made me fall in love in such a personal way. Ultimately, the Peanut Butter Falcon feels like a reminder that sometimes the people we love the most are the ones we find along the way.
“What’s the first rule?”