Sweet indie road trip films such as The Peanut Butter Falcon are the film industries bread and butter. They usually follow the same formula: Two very different people (or best friends) wind up on the road or running away from the law. Across the country, usually America, they learn how to live with one another and bond entirely. There’s a light guitar soundtrack, a dreamy dusty colour and many shots of sunsets. Many, many shots of sunsets. It is archetypal and yet each and every one winds up being life-affirming, sweet, and really funny.
The Peanut Butter Falcon, which ticks off many boxes on the Indie Movie 101 list, is still a vibrant and hilarious film that makes you fall in love with the characters.
The film, directed and written by Tyler Nilsen and Michael Schwartz, revolves around Zak – a 22 year old man with Down Syndrome who is forced to live in a retirement home. Keen to escape the home, Zak runs away, bumping into the gruff Tyler after hiding in a boat. Tyler himself is also on the run after burning down a rival fisherman’s equipment. Though Tyler is initially angry and Zak sudden appearance, the pair make their way to Florida so that Zak can meet his hero Salt Water Redneck. Across the straits, rivers, and marshes, the pair make the trip – tailed by Zak’s carer Eleanor and Duncan, the fisherman who Tyler wronged.
Led by Zack Gottsagen, Shia LaBeouf, and Dakota Johnson, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a tender road-trip movie that may wade in familiar waters. Yet directing/writing duo Nilsen and Schwartz interject a lot of spirit into the film that helps it float like a well-constructed raft from familiar objects. There are a lot of chuckles as well as lessons learned along the way. The biggest is judgement: The hapless and gruff fisherman may just be lost and grieving, the kindly carer may be widowed and alone, the guy with Down Syndrome just wants to be treated like any other 22 year old – free to do what he wants. This all combines into a brilliant, kindly film that is enriching, if albeit saccharine sweet and predictable.
Gottsagen performs Zak with great furore, energetic and with wonderful life. He is superb to watch as he bounds through the comedy and the emotion. He is paired wonderfully with LaBeouf who, despite Tyler’s hardened and touch exterior, treats Zak with – even if that’s with hostility and annoyance at first. The pair are charming together making for a great pairing that I’d happily see together on the screen again. This is particularly prominent in the bonfire scene where the titular character is born. They’ve terrific chemistry together.
The only issue is Johnson’s character. Though she tries, she never pulls Eleanor out from being either a love interest or dead-weight, feeling quite pointless at propelling the story forward, especially when she meets up with the boys. Still, the dynamics and compelling tale pull this movie forward.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a great, feel-good adventure that has wholesome characters and is an enjoyable ride. You’ll be hard pushed not to leave the film grinning.
The Peanut Butter Falcon screens as part of BFI London Film Festival.
Buy tickets now.