The Peanut Butter Falcon 


Opening Friday, Aug. 23

Shia LaBeouf has almost become more famous for his offscreen adventures—the drunk and disorderliness, the plagiarism scandals, the airport-terminal confrontation with a Fox News correspondent—than for his acting. But onscreen, he’s a natural, gifted with that strange charisma that top-tier movie stars possess. When LaBeouf is locked in, he’s a genuinely soulful presence on the big screen, and you’re drawn to him. 

That quality powers the best scenes in The Peanut Butter Falcon, a down-the-river adventure in the key of Mark Twain that features colorful characters, picturesque Southern scenery, and a breakout performance from LaBeouf’s costar, Zack Gottsagen. 

Gottsagen has Down Syndrome, as does his character, Zak, a ward of the state who is assigned to live in a nursing home in Richmond, Virginia. Zak, however, has Big Plans. He wants to escape his confinement and head south to meet the Saltwater Redneck, a pro wrestler who runs a training facility in Florida. 

Escape he does, and en route, he joins forces with Tyler (LaBeouf), a crab fisherman on the lam who has his own reasons for heading south in a hurry. The two form a Huck-and-Tom partnership, poling their makeshift raft through the rivers and estuaries of North Carolina. Zak and Tyler form an instinctive bond, and you get the sense that LaBeouf and Gottsagen did as well. The two performers share scenes of such spontaneous tenderness it feels like a documentary in spots. 

That’s the good stuff in The Peanut Butter Falcon, and you’ll want to hold onto it dearly during the less-successful sequences. Subtlety is not this movie’s strong suit; it’s as predictable as the tides. You’re likely to see each heartwarming plot point coming a few seconds before it arrives. But that’s OK. Suspend your thinky-thinky critical voice and just go with the flow. 

Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz conceived of the film when they met Gottsagen at an organization for people with disabilities, and the casting never feels like a gimmick. Gottsagen has created a real character here, and he’s got some pretty ace comic timing, too. 

In the end, though, it was LaBeouf’s character that stayed with me. He’s an easy guy to dislike if you read celebrity news stories. The Peanut Butter Falcon is a reminder of why he’s got a career to tank in the first place. Let’s hope he can hang in there.