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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONSFrom left: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONSFrom left: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, “The Peanut Butter Falcon.”

Movie Review: ‘Peanut Butter Falcon’ soars

Monday, September 23, 2019 by Paul Willistein in Focus

‘The Peanut Butter Falcon” is, to quote Spanky in the “Our Gang (The Little Rascals)” comedy shorts (1932-1942), “bringmarkable.” It’s a film that defies categorization and stereotypes.

The narrative fiction film is one of the best of 2019 and deserves several Oscar nominations, especially for Zack Gottsagen, a person with Down Syndrone, who plays Zak, the character of the film’s title who has Down Syndrome.

The title, “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” refers to the name of the character that Zak (Zack Gottsagen) takes on for his hoped-for career as a professional wrestler.

Zak escapes from a home for the elderly, where he shares a room with an elderly man, Carl (the ever taciturn Bruce Dern). Zak was placed in the home for lack of enough facilities’ rooms and because he’s homeless and without family.

After his escape from the home, a social worker there, Eleanor (a fine Dakota Johnson), must locate him.

The story takes place in the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Zak hides out with Tyler (a superb Shia LaBeouf). Tyler is in trouble for stealing crabs from traps owned by crabbers Duncan (a very scary John Hawkes, Oscar supporting actor nominee, “Winter’s Bone,” 2010) and his sidekick Ratboy (rapper Yelawolf).

Zak and Tyler form an unlikely alliance. Tyler is on the lam from Duncan and Ratboy. Zak wants to travel down the highway to a wrestling academy run by The Salt Water Redneck, aka Clint (always interesting Thomas Haden Church).

When Zak appears as The Peanut Butter Falcon in a match that Clint sets up with Jake “The Snake” Roberts (former NWA and WWF championship wrestler), all does not go as planned.

There are aspects of Mark Twain’s novel, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884) in the rapport between Tyler and Zak, and the movie, “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), in the quest by Tyler, Zak and Eleanor, who, without articulating it, are metaphorically looking for brains, heart and courage.

The film is elegantly lensed by Nigel Bluck (”The Home Song Stories,” 2007) with beautiful views of the ocean, estuaries, and the backwoods.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is paced by terrific performances, especially that of Zack Gottsagen in his theatrical motion picture debut. It’s important to see diversity in motion pictures and to see diverse people portraying those roles. This is no more true than for persons with disabilities.

Look for an Oscar actor nomination for Gottsagen, perhaps the first person with Down Syndrome to be so nominated.

Gottsagen’s portrayal may cause you to reconsider feature movies about persons who are mentally- and or emotionally-challenged, including “Rain Man” (1988), “Forrest Gump” (1994), “Being There” (1979) and “Marty” (1955). Certainly, it should give us pause before we use certain invectives in daily discourse.

What’s great about the structure of “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is the gradual acceptance of Zak by Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), also a marginalized person.

This is a breakthrough role for LaBeouf (“Honey Boy,” 2019; “Borg Vs. McEnroe,” 2017; “American Honey,” 2016; “The Company You Keep,” 2012; “Transformers” 2011, 2009, 2007; “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” 2012; “Bobby,” 2006), almost unrecognizable at the outset in full beard and “Outer Banks” baseball cap.

LaBeouf should receive a deserved Oscar nomination for a taut, bitter, carefully-controlled performance that transforms like sunshine on a cloudy day before our eyes.

Another wonderful aspect about “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is the change by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) in her perception of Zak from that of an institutional, clinical perspective to that of seeing him as an individual.

This is a revelatory role for Johnson (“Fifty Shade” series, 2018, 2017, 2015; “The Social Network,” 2010). Perhaps Johnson took the advice of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, who nominated her as “Actress Most in Need of a New Agent” in 2019, 2018 and 2016.

Johnson proves she’s more than whip-smart in a nuanced, upbeat and charming performance.

The cast includes Jon Bernthal (Mark, Tyler’s brother), Mick Foley (a former WWF wrestler, as Jacob) and Wayne Dehart (Blind Jasper John).

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz in their feature film screenwriter and director debut. It’s quite an achievement. Look for deserved Oscar original screenplay and Oscar director nominations.

In Oscar potential, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” has the sense of “Green Book (2018), which received 2019 Oscars for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), for its underdog status.

In comparison to other movies, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” has the sense of a “small” film, such as “About Schmidt” (2002), for which Jack Nicholson was nominated for an actor Oscar; “Nebraska” (2013), for which Bruce Dern was nominated for an actor Oscar, for its realistically-written characters; “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017), for which Frances McDormand received an actress Oscar and Sam Rockwell received a supporting actor Oscar, for its plain-talk dialogue and inventive storyline, and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012), nominated for picture, director (Benh Zeitlin), adapted screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin) and actress (Quvenzhané Wallis), for its southern gothic style.

If the 2019 Nantucket Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival, where the film received audience awards, are any indicators, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is likely to be an Oscar favorite, too.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a triumph of the spirit. It’s a film that can be enjoyed by nearly the entire family. It’s delightful. It’s thrilling. It’s joyful. It’s one of those films that’s wrong for all the right reasons. The film will be regarded as a classic. Don’t miss it.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon,” MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for fighting, profanity, smoking and drinking; Genre: Adventure, Drama, Comedy; Run time: 1 hr., 37 mins; Distributed by Roadside Attractions.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “The Peanut Butter Falcon” has a terrific Americana soundtrack of blues, traditional and gospel music, including “This Train,” The Staple Singers; “So Long To Heartache,” Dixie Davis and Larry Davis; “Whipperwills,” Chance McCoy; “Where The Wild, Wild Flowers Grow,” Ola Belle Reed, and “Long Hot Summer Days,” Sara Watkins, with music composed by Zach Dawes (music supervisor), Jonathan Sadoff and members of The Punch Brothers (2018 Folk Album Grammy).

Box Office, Sept. 20-22: The dowagers of “Downton Abbey” collected the ducats, opening at No. 1, with $31 million, keeping Brad Pitt’s “Ad Astra” lost in space, opening at No. 2, with $19.2 million, one week, and Sylvester Stallone running through the jungle, with “Rambo: Last Blood,” opening at No.3, with $19 million, wresting ”It Chapter Two” from its two-week straight run at No. 1, dropping three places to No. 4, with $17.2 million, $179.1 million, three weeks.

5. “Hustlers” dropped four places, $17 million, $62.5 million, two weeks. 6. “The Lion King” dropped one place, $2.5 million, $537.5 million, 10 weeks. 7. “Good Boys” dropped three places, $2.5 million, $77.3 million, six weeks. 8. “Angel Has Fallen,” dropped five places, $2.4 million, $64.6 million, five weeks. 9. “Overcomer” dropped two places, $1.5 million, $31.5 million, five weeks. 10. “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” dropped four places, $1.4 million, $170.6 million, eight weeks. 13. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” dropped four places, $1 million, $16.7 million, seven weeks.

Unreel, Sept. 27:

“Judy,” PG-13: Rupert Goold directs Renée Zellweger in the title role of Judy Garland. The Biography Drama also stars Jessie Buckley, Rufus Sewell and Finn Wittrock. Judy Garland is in London in 1968 to perform several sold-out concerts.

“The Day Shall Come,” No MPAA rating. Christopher Morris directs: Anna Kendrick, Denis O’Hare, Kayvan Novak and Jim Gaffigan in the Comedy. A preacher in the Miami projects is secretly bribed.