sat 25/05/2024

The Peanut Butter Falcon review - sentimental comedy is so damn heartwarming | reviews, news & interviews

The Peanut Butter Falcon review - sentimental comedy is so damn heartwarming

The Peanut Butter Falcon review - sentimental comedy is so damn heartwarming

Heart-felt picaresque adventure about a young man with Down's Syndrome runs into clichés

Take it to the river: Zack Gottsagen as Zak and Shia LaBoeuf as Tyler

It’s an uncomfortable feeling to find oneself completely at odds with an audience in a cinema, but it happens. The recent London Film Festival screening of The Peanut Butter Falcon came complete with the two lead actors and the co-directors and their film went down a storm with a crowd of happy viewers, many of whom had learning disabilities themselves.

They were delighted to see Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down’s Syndrome, play one of the three main characters. An independently-produced comedy-drama, it won the Audience Award at South by Southwest and has been a sleeper hit in the US.  

This odd-couple road movie clearly has good intentions; its directors first met Zack Gottsagen at an acting camp for young people with disabilities and he impressed them with his desire to star in a movie. They wrote the script for him and he’s by far the most impressive actor in the film. Gottsagen, who is in his thirties, plays Zak who has been abandoned by his family and forced to live in a care home for the elderly. He escapes to follow his dream of becoming a professional wrestler and is pursued by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a well-meaning care assistant. There then follows a series of picaresque adventures in the Deep South when Zak teams up with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a fisherman on the run from vengeful rivals. The Peanut Butter Falcon openly evokes Huckleberry Finn – there’s a raft, assorted riverine adventures and luscious swampy landscapes. On their travels the threesome encounter local clichéd characters such as a blind, black, evangelical preacher and a moonshine maker who gives them a jug of hooch to supplement the peanut butter which sustains them. There are boat chases, drunken bonding sessions, brushes with death, secret handshakes and lyrical open-air swimming. It's all so damn heartwarming.

The film played very well with the audience at the LFF and the American reviews have been good, so why do I feel like I’m stamping on a puppy by giving it only one star?  It’s because like Rain Man, Awakenings, Forrest Gump and countless other films featuring a character with cognitive disabilities, Gottsagen plays a childlike innocent, almost a Holy Fool. Zak is 100 percent loveable and a cypher in the film’s narrative; his character’s role is to redeem Tyler, the bad boy lead and teach him to be caring and responsible. Once that’s done, sexless Zak can take a backseat to Tyler’s romance with Eleanor and we can all go home with a warm glow that we’ve cheered on a man with Down's Syndrome and we’re decent human beings too.  

It’s a step forward that the directors cast an actor with disabilities rather than getting a star to "crip up". But it’s a long way from making a film which creates a complex, genuine three-dimensional portrait of life with Down’s Syndrome. For that, it would be wise to seek out the low-budget UK movie, My Feral Heart and the Irish film, Sanctuary.

Gottsagen plays a childlike innocent, almost a Holy Fool


Editor Rating: 
Average: 1 (1 vote)

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I have to strongly disagree with this assessment, it seems like the author is trying to see the negative or is playing some sort of devil's advocate role. I didn't see Zak as one-dimensional or a prop in the movie at all. I see it the opposite...I think this will change people's perceptions of people with down's syndrome and other disabilities. Zak had agency, he had his own wishes and goals and he went after them. I have the privilege of spending a lot of time with an adult with down's syndrome and in a lot of ways he is like Zak. His character showed a lot of strength (not just of the physical kind) that scene where it was him who was comforting Tyler on the raft. Zak was Tyler's rock in that moment. And I don't think he took a backseat to the romance at all. Yes, there was a romance that didn't necessarily need to happen (but come on, people love that stuff), but it was relatively understated. The three main characters were all looking for something, and they all came together in these unusual circumstances and gave each other what they were needing. That's what I saw anyway.

I mean you're arguing with someone that said "crip up" in their review.. we all know how credible they are

I, along with so many other disability advocates and organizations have fount the Peanut Butter Falcon to be the opposite of what this reviewer has written. The reviewer's reference to Zack Gottsagen's character as "almost a holy fool" as an insult to the actor, and to his and his Peanut Butter Falcon multidimensional character's complexity, aspirational qualities, determination, optimism, resilience, wisdom, and capacity for love. This film has been recognized and indeed lauded as an authentic representation of disability by the Rudderman Family Foundation, The Global Down Syndrome Organization, The Special Olympics, The Reel Abilities Film Festival, and many many other Down Syndrome and disability advocacy organizations, as well as family members of individuals with Down Syndrome, PLUS individuals who themselves have Down Syndrome themselves. In this movie, which reflected only a short period in any of the characters' lives Zak achieves his wrestling dream and his longing for family and in doing this, he is presented in many ways as the strongest and most determined of the various character in the film. His role in the film did not appear to be (as the reviewer states) to redeem the Tyler character. It was to to be part of a life affirming narrative about the power determination, acceptance (of each others challenges, and human connection, It is sad indeed if the reviewer truly lacks the emotional capacity to experience and understand this. If the reviewer's goal instead was simply to be a cynical spoiler, that, (or them )should be a humbling embarrassment requiring further research and reflection on their part.

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