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One Movie Punch

Aug 29, 2019

Hi everyone!

We’re back with our third Certified Fresh film this week, but this time it won’t be swiped by One Movie Spouse. Shia LaBeouf has one of the weirdest careers in Hollywood. For someone who was once positioned to lead two major franchises, which would be “The Transformers” and “Indiana Jones”, soon found himself embroiled in a bunch of internet and real life drama. While most remember him now as the “JUST DO IT!” green screen hero, LaBeouf has been quietly picking and starring in some pretty great films, including today’s film, “Borg vs McEnroe” (Episode #231), and the forthcoming critically acclaimed “Honey Boy”. A great road to recovery that we all get to benefit from. 

Before the film, we’ll have a promo from our friends, and I use that term very loosely, at the Massive Late Fee podcast. You can check out their takeover episode here at One Movie Punch for “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience” (Episode #521). Be sure to catch their recent episode on “Baseketball”. You can follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @MassiveLateFee.

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Here we go!




Today’s movie is “The Peanut Butter Falcon”, the Roadside Attractions adventure drama written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. The film follows Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a man with Down Syndrome living in a hospice where he was relocated after his parents died two years ago. With the help of his elderly roommate, he escapes into the Outer Banks of North Carolina to attend the Salt Water Redneck School of Wrestling, and is helped along the way by social outcast Tyler (Shia LaBeouf).

No spoilers. 

I really hate the word retard, which I will refer to as the r-word going forward in this review. I hate that people call other people that when they want to call them stupid or ignorant or foolish. I hate that people describe actions or events with the r-word. And I really hate it when people feel a need to get on a soapbox to talk about their right to use that word if they want, and that we shouldn’t be policing language, or something about political correctness. I never really understand the arguments for using the word for anything but in a strict engineering sense. It’s a word used to compare a subset of the population who through no fault of their own were born as something other than neurotypical. And it’s no different than the n-word in the eyes of many, including myself.

Entire generations have adopted the r-word to refer to a very diverse group of people, with different needs and wants and desires, and Hollywood’s depictions on the big and small screen were never very kind. It wasn’t until the landmark show “Life Goes On”, along with a few made-for-television movies at the time, that opened up the larger world to Down syndrome, humanizing people with Down syndrome, showing how their life isn’t better or worse, but different. And most importantly, it starred Chris Burke, who played Corky, and was the first actor with Down syndrome to play a major television character. It’s what makes inclusiveness important. More often than not, characters with developmental disabilities used to be played by neurotypical actors, but Burke’s portrayal of Corky opened the door for meaningful portrayals of people with Down syndrome by people with Down syndrome. It is something that “The Peanut Butter Falcon” gets absolutely right, and in the best ways possible. 

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is an adventure story in the tradition of many journey stories of old, most especially “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, a reference coyly made towards the beginning of the film. It also reminded me a great deal of Taika Waititi’s “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”, another recent journey story about two social outcasts making their own path in the world. However, the film is not just a journey story, but a hero’s tale, specifically the path to becoming a hero, which makes the real star of today’s film Zack Gottsagen. Gottsagen’s performance is great in two specific respects. First, his actual performance is always genuine, never feeling like he’s just being given lines to read. And second, Nilson and Schwartz always frame him respectfully, only creating uncomfortable scenes when exploring particular themes.

However, it’s not just Gottsagen’s show, because Zak must necessarily be helped along his path, first by Tyler, then by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Zak’s hospice caseworker. Heroes often need help forging themselves. Tyler and Eleanor do not just help physically transport Zak along his way and protecting him when needed, or helping him navigate socially in an often unforgiving world. They also emotionally and spiritually empower Zak to believe in himself, especially when others cut him down, often with the use of the r-word, or when their story doesn’t always turn out the way they expected.

While “The Peanut Butter Falcon” keeps an overall light tone, it does enter some dangerous and difficult areas. While we can laugh and hope with Zak along his journey, we’re also reminded that there are many folks with Down syndrome who get lost in often overcrowded support systems. While we cheer Zak along his training to become a wrestler, we have to acknowledge that not everyone will react to his desires in a positive manner, nor will want to include him. And while we keep a warm heart during the journey, we’re also shown the very cruel reaction some, perhaps still many, parts of society have for non-neurotypical people.

The real strength of “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is that it gets inclusiveness right in so many ways. It gets the casting right by finding a great actor with Down syndrome. It gets the character right by treating the syndrome with respect and care. It gets the comedy right not by exploiting Zak’s life, but by examining his perspective and creating non-exploitative situational humor. It gets the themes and premise right by exploring many topics and busting a few myths along the way. And it gets the execution nearly perfect, with only a few rushed moments not even worth mentioning. It’s so rare to see a film that gets inclusiveness this right.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a heartwarming tale about one man’s journey to become a hero, who is helped along his way by two very loving and supportive, not to mention unlikely, people. While the film is a solid hero story, its hidden strength is that it gets inclusiveness of Down syndrome people correct in all the right ways. Fans of heartwarming stories, or folks who want to know how inclusiveness should work in society, should definitely see this film.

Rotten Tomatoes: 95% (CERTIFIED FRESH)

Metacritic: 69

One Movie Punch: 10/10 

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” (2019) is rated PG-13 and is currently playing in theaters.