By George Mellowship, Third Year, Geography
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) highlights disability in a thoughtful and genuine manner, showcasing a disabled actor alongside major celebrities in a Mark Twain inspired emotional rollercoaster.
The Peanut Butter Falcon, directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Shwartz, focuses on a 22-year-old called Zak with Downs Syndrome - played by Zack Gottsagen, who shares the condition. Zak escapes from the assisted living facility that he is currently living in to pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler. Along the way, he encounters Tyler (Shia La Beouf), a fisherman that is struggling to deal with the death of his brother and is joined by his social worker/carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). The three head off on an adventure to reach the wrestling school Zak dreams of attending.
The film which was 8 years in the making is inspired by the Mark Twain character of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Nilson and Shwartz met Gottsagen at a camp for disabled actors in 2011 and were inspired by his desire to make a film. The film is built around Gottsagen and his performance holds the film together.
The film follows a rather predictable plot which sometimes makes the characters feel slightly one-dimensional
The main strength of the film is the relationship between the three main characters. Zak is highly loveable and has the audience in the palm of his hand from the first scene. His desire for freedom and sense of optimism and fun is highly infectious. Both Tyler and Eleanor deeply care for Zak, but the relationships are reciprocal as he helps them both to reinvent themselves in getting over their individual grief and experience joy once more.
It becomes clear early on that Tyler is used as a mirror of Zak’s character: both have suffered loss, being pursued by different parties and most importantly are completely alone. Their relationship brings heaps of fun to the film and both compliment the other’s character perfectly.
Dakota Johnson and Zack Gottsagen talk about the success of their film “The Peanut Butter Falcon” on the Governors Awards Red Carpet pic.twitter.com/WdL1ypNAO5— ET Canada (@ETCanada) October 28, 2019
Although the film is highly enjoyable, it follows a rather predictable plot which sometimes makes the characters feel slightly one-dimensional. It tends to fall into the typical film trope where an older, grouchier character meets a younger loveable sidekick with a third female main character thrown in for good measure. There is also concern as a viewer when Tyler seems unwilling to help Zak on his journey until he learns that it could win the affections of Eleanor.
Slight plot problems aside, the themes of friendship and freedom are what provide the film with warmth, and Zak’s optimism ignites childhood feelings of adventure and unbridled fun. The vast, beautiful looking setting of the Florida Keys reflects the theme of freedom and reminds the viewer that perhaps there is more in the world than our self-contained lives.
Where the directors excel is through the presentation of Zak’s disability. They highlight the brutal discrimination that some disabled people face, whilst also suggesting that as a society despite good intentions we inadvertently place boundaries on disabled people.
This is clear when Eleanor is hesitant at first of Zak holding his head under water, but he surprises both the characters and the audience by catching a fish with his bear hands. It is a truly touching moment when Zak discusses that he is a villain because his family abandoned him due to his disability, but Tyler reassures him what the audience believes: that Zak is undoubtedly a hero.
The main strength of the film is the relationship between the three main characters
An upbeat, pleasant score and an ideal runtime of 97 minutes help make the film highly enjoyable. The joyful performance of Gottsagen with the support of the other two leads builds an adventure that is truly heart-warming. Whilst The Peanut Butter Falcon suffers from plot problems and at times stretches believability, the sense of joy stop you from caring and allow for you to be swept along on the adventure.
Featured: Getty Images / Nigel Bluck
Do you see The Peanut Butter Falcon as a step towards better representation in cinema?