There are presentational actors and there are representational actors. Guys like Tom Hardy or Johnny Depp, those are representational actors. When they act, they become a completely different person altogether. Changing the pitch of their voice, their appearance, and inventing a totally new character. But presentational actors utilize their own personalities, and their own emotions and experiences as best they can, channeling them into a very real character who we can relate to.
Shia LaBeouf is a presentational actor. One of the best. He doesn’t put on a wig or makeup. He just makes us believe him by connecting with his character. And connecting us with him in the process.
LaBeouf is one half of the duo who fronts Peanut Butter Falcon. He plays Tyler, a troubled fisherman in Virginia who is on the run to Florida after getting into some trouble with local fisherman for setting fire to their dock after a quarrel.
The other half of the duo is Zak, a 22-year-old with Down syndrome who has been living at a retirement home after his family left him a couple years back. He’s obsessed with professional wrestling and repeatedly watches the same VHS tape of his favorite wrestler, Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church), vowing to break out of his home and travel to North Carolina to attend Salt Water’s wrestling school.
After a couple failed attempts, he finally succeeds and gets far enough to hide in Tyler’s boat. Once Tyler begins his own getaway, he discovers Zak and eventually agrees to help him on his journey.
As the two men make their trek, Zak is being tracked down by his caregiver, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), who truly cares about Zak, but constantly babies him. Tyler, on the other hand, encourages Zak to live life to the fullest and “give people a story to tell”.
Zak is played by Zack Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome, just like his character. Gottsagen gives a very memorable performance. He’s naturally funny (and not afraid to ad-lib), and has an explosive chemistry with LaBeouf.
LaBeouf plays the rugged runaway brilliantly, adding yet another fine portrayal to his resume. This is gearing up to be a great year for the actor, who was all but outcasted from Hollywood a few years back. But with two critical darlings in 2019–this one and his autobiographical project coming up in a few months–he may finally be out of the doghouse. As an aside, this is his first non-R-rated movie in nearly 10 years, oddly enough.
Tyler is a real curmudgeonly dude, but never sees Zak as a person with Down syndrome. He acknowledges Zak’s dream of becoming a wrestler despite his disability. He truly believes he can actually achieve his goal, letting him know right away that he’s not BSing him by taking a more realistic approach. He informs Zak, “You’ll never dunk a basketball or be an Olympic swimmer.” But then he adds that being a professional wrestler is an actual possibility because he has physical strength unlike anyone he’s ever seen, and he has the determination to succeed.
Sometimes we need to hear that we can’t realistically do just anything simply because we “set our minds to it”. There are things we are physically incapable of doing. And that’s okay. Sugar coating realities only leads to disappointment.
Tyler admires Zak’s honesty, but the real draw for him is how Zak sees the world with no judgement or prejudice. In a way, Tyler is like that too, but he just doesn’t see the world through that same unfiltered lens. He’s become jaded. We get a backstory on Tyler, but it’s not over-explained. We see brief flashbacks and that’s all we really need.
In their debut feature, writing/director team Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz knows how to tell a touching story without all the fluff. They stray away from dramatic tear-jerker formulas and find a way to tug on our heart strings without using any cheap tricks. They don’t make Tyler give some long, drawn-out speech telling us how Zak’s changed him, and how he needs Zak just as much as Zak needs him. We just know. The two filmmakers simply rely on the dynamic between their performers to make us invested. We fall in love with these characters just by watching them interact and live out their stories.
Peanut Butter Falcon is a movie that makes all the right choices. It doesn’t waste time with pleasantries and phony plot developments. No makes-you-sick drama or contrived conflicts between characters. The film is equally touching as it is hilarious, and does so without compromising either quality.
Originally published on September 20, 2019 at https://www.popzara.com/movies/movie-reviews/peanut-butter-falcon-2019/