Review: 'The Peanut Butter Falcon'

Shia LaBoeuf stars alongside newcomer, Zack Gottsagen, in heartfelt travel movie
WETLANDS: In 'The Peanut Butter Falcon,' two fugitives buddy-up for a 'Huckleberry Finn'-style adventure.

Using a special needs actor is problematic, from a question of exploitation and how deep the performance goes. However, it's always better than having a normally abled actor pretending to be differently abled—what novelist Bruce Wagner famously termed "the perennial audience-pleaser and vainglorious actor's showcase staple." However, someday you'll meet someone who'll consider Tyler Nilson's audience-pleasing The Peanut Butter Falcon their favorite movie of all time. That choice wouldn't be disgraceful; like the star Zack Gottsagen, this movie is on its own wavelength.

Gottsagen's Zak introduces himself: "I am a Down's Syndrome Person." He's stubby, stubborn and hard to handle. Zak is a fan of professional wrestling and one wrestler in particular, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church) who he watches repeatedly on a VHS tape. This obsession spurs his plan to flee the North Carolina old folks home where he's being kept. He gives staff the slip with the help of his roommate, Bruce Dern (doing some superior codgering, he's infectiously amusing). Zak flees at night in his underwear, stowing away in the boat of another fugitive, Tyler (Shia LaBoeuf), a hard-luck crab poacher with a couple of bad bastards (John Hawke and Yelawolf) after him.

Tyler and Zak become traveling companions, rafting south in the Pamlico Sound. As a road trip movie, it's like The Last Detail done watery—and the two are at last joined by Eleanor, who worked at the nursing home where Zak lived. In her scene of smilingly rebuffing Tyler's compliments, Johnson shows she has more than enough acting chops to survive the 50 Shades of Gray series.

The cuteness is built in from the title down. It is a bit gooshy, with a baptism by a profane junkyard reverend and a magical realist moment of triumph. Still, the Outer Banks waterscapes make The Peanut Butter Falcon funky and appealingly summery. LaBeouf's comeback continues to impress, and he nails this wispy tale together. There are worse things you can say about a film than it's like Beasts of the Southern Wild if Frank Darabont directed it.

The Peanut Butter Falcon
PG-13, 93 Mins.
CinéArts Palo Alto Square

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