Movie Review: Huck Finn has nothing on “The Peanut Butter Falcon”


That darned Shia LaBeouf.

Every time he hits the headlines, you’re ready to write him off. Forget how to spell that darned name, he’s done. And every time he picks a winning film project, he writes himself back in again.

Dakota Johnson? A few more pictures like her latest and her penance for breaking into the big time with those meretricious “Shades of Grey” softcores will be paid.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is an unassuming winner of a summer odyssey, a low-cost and bittersweet “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” with hints of “Rain Man” and “Mud” about it.

It’s not so much surprising. Not at all.

The situations and plot turns take on a taste of “far-fetched” more than once or twice.

But the effortless charm of the characters, the easy chemistry of their interactions and the loping pace of this stroll through the Outer Banks of N.C. (actually, the coastal wetlands of Savannah, Ga.) make this the “road comedy” of the summer.

Newcomer Zack Gottsagen plays a version of himself, a Down Syndrome man with a lifelong obsession with pro wrestling that drives his desire to escape the Brighthayven Nursing Home where he resides, or is “kept.”

In the backwater where he grew up, there is no room at a proper mental health facility. The state warehoused him with the very old and the dying, which drives his desire to flee.

Pretty college grad nurse’s aide Eleanor (Johnson) isn’t enough to stop this “flight risk” from flying.

“I don’t know why I am here” is a legitimate complaint. Making his roomie (twinkly old Bruce Dern) re-watch his old VHS of wrestler “Salt Water Redneck” (Thomas Haden Church, spot on) who runs a school for wrestlers Zack dreams of attending, is not.

Amusing, sarcastic and kind of crafty, Zack finally makes his getaway, and the boss of the joint (Lee Spencer, good ol’boy dry) sends Eleanor out to find him.

But coastal crabber Tyler (LaBeoeuf) finds him first. Actually Zack, slipping out with only his not-too-tidy not-so-white tidy whiteys to his name and stowing away on Tyler’s crab boat, finds him.

And as Tyler’s newly on the lam for running afoul of other crabbers (John Hawkes at his redneck scariest), well Miss Eleanor may have to wait. The outlaw (the law never figures into this) and the runaway set off cross-country; Tyler to sanctuary in Jupiter, Fla., with a promise to drop Zack at Salt Water Redneck’s Wrestling School in Ayden, N.C., along the way.

No, don’t try to trace this on a map, as Eleanor does while she pursues them. Don’t look up where her alma mater, “GW,” George Washington University is. One of the directors might be from N.C., but damned if he cares about getting stuff like that right. Geographically and topographically, the movie makes no sense.

But what does is the structure — a road comedy/buddy picture where the “buddies” are a reluctant couple, two converging outside forces are pursuing them and “over the rainbow,” in Ayden, promises them both deliverance.

“Maybe we could be friends,” Zack pleads. “Road dogs. Buddies. And hang and chill and have a good time…”

And when all else fails, he hangs out the BIG promise.

“Hey, you wan’come to my BIRTHday party?”

Gottsagen, in his mid-30s and playing a guy everybody calls “kid,” brings out the indulgent, attentive best in every co-star. He has a funny scene with Dern, warm or worrisome ones with Johnson and simply adorable exchanges with LaBeouf, who takes on accent, waterman wisdom and the suggestion of a guilty conscience (Jon Bernthal plays his brother, in flashbacks) as Tyler, too weak a fighter to keep poking the bear that is crab fishing rival Duncan (Hawkes).

You can smell Tyler from his unwashed fisherman’s attire to his sleeping out in the open hygiene. That beard looks like crabs could hide in it.

So it must be his smooth patter that bowls over Eleanor, when they finally meet.

“You like Mark Twain? You like Louis L’Amour? You got a phone number? You wan’give it to me? Got a name?”

Writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz populate their debut feature with adorable, backwater/backwoods eccentrics — the remote country store owner so alarmed by Tyler showing up and haggling for food, with a shotgun, that he gives him a bottle of whisky, but first “a little swig to calm m’nerves,” and a blind retired African American waterman/preacher who needs to know the guys are “God-fearing” and will accept baptism before he’ll help them, and maybe not shoot them for trying to steal his boat.

“Godfearing? Weh’goooood. Why‘on’t you come in here and let’s talk about JEEEeeeesus?”

Retired wrestlers Mick Foley and Jake Roberts play retired wrestlers.

Local color counts in movies like this, and “The Peanut Butter Falcon” — that’s Zack’s “wrestling name” — soaks in it. That, and a lot of funny lines and funny ways of performing them give “Falcon” wings.

“This is not ‘Lord of the Flies.’ There’s rules. There’s regulations!”

It’s a scruffy little movie that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny or over-thinking — at all. But its charm carries it a long way. And if we’ve learned nothing else from this summer of “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and “Hobbs & Shaw,” we will forgive a lot if the characters and actors playing them make the entire experience a pleasant “hang,” as “Peanut Butter Falcon” most assuredly does.


MPAA Rating: PG-13, violence, alcohol consumption,

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern and Thomas Haden Church

Credits: Written and directed by Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz. A Roadside Attractions release.

Running: 1:32

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.