Those who read my little rants disguised as reviews on a regular basis, will remember that I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m a fan on professional wrestling and I have been since I was young. Sadly, when the worlds of wrestling and films intersect, they often end in disaster.
Dwayne Johnson and John Cena may be riding high in Hollywood right now, but they are the exception rather than the rule, many figures from the wrestling world have tried their hand at acting, more often than not on an ill-fated WWE Studios venture, but they very rarely break through to the mainstream, and wrestling as a topic is usually held in contempt by Hollywood.
There are exceptions to the rule, as usual, The Wrestler for one is a phenomenal film, lauded by critics for its daring approach to portraying wrestling, and admired by many in the industry for its unflinching accuracy. Even earlier this year there was Fighting With My Family, which wasn’t on the same level, but was still a damn good film.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is an intersection of several unusual threads, one of which being wrestling, all wrapped up in a surprising package.
Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down’s syndrome living in an old folks home with a big dream: to become a professional wrestler. To peruse this dream he goes on the run, soon gaining help in the form of Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) a down-on-his luck fisherman on the run from violent rivals.
Bit of an odd premise isn’t it? But upon reading it, do you want to read more? I certainly did.
What this film has that many films try so vainly to chase is effortless charm. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not fall in love with the character of Zak, his infectious personality and heart bind this film together, like rivets hold together a ship. He’s so charming that everyone around him becomes that much more likeable, like his energy is passed from character to character, and it’s simply wonderful.
This film may fly under a lot of radars, but it is catching a lot of acclaim in independent circles, richly deserved acclaim I’d say, for such a unique concept that enters risky ground in portraying those with a learning disability, it handles it with such affection and drive that you forget about Zak’s condition, he simply becomes human, which is the message at the heart of this film.
Filmmakers who want to portray those with learning impairments should look to this film as an example, it uses Zak’s condition as a key part of his portrayal for sure, but they don’t let it define him. They let his boundless energy and passion speak for itself, and seeing his and Tyler’s relationship develop is seriously heartwarming.
This would be what I’d consider the main draw to the film: the ever-developing chemistry between Zak and Tyler. They start off at odds, unable to understand each other or their respective worlds, but through shared experience they come to appreciate each other. Tyler eventually sees past Zack’s Down’s syndrome, and in a really touching character arc, helps others to see past it too.
The film also looks very nice, making use of its pilgrimage setup to show off some of the vast American countryside, shooting varied, yet beautiful scenes on land and water, cruising across vast body’s of water, and observing serene landscapes. The cinematography has a real picture book feel to it when the characters are exploring the wilderness, giving a wild and vibrant feel to the film as a whole.
Acting is also a strong point for this film. Held together by the strong bedrock of Zack Gottsagen’s incredibly honest performance, it’s helped by a controlled and contemplative Shia LaBeouf, who’s at his best when portraying deep, cutting emotion with just facial expressions, it’s like his characters entire story lurks behind his eyes, his face flickering with regret, but while also keeping up with Zack’s optimistic side later in the film, he becomes a surrogate older brother figure, a role he metamorphosis’s into with great ease.
It can be on the more absurd side at times, but it also manages to juggle a great many factors. It manages to be incredibly funny, while also being exceptionally touching, as I say, a heart of ice could be melted by Zak, and his relationship with Tyler, and that alone made this film worthwhile for me, to the extent that I’m willing to forgive its few flaws, it’s literal interpretation of wrestling and occasional steps into the ridiculous among them, because it touched me like few films ever do.
In conclusion, I may have seen technically better films this year, but I don’t think I’ve seen many with quite as much heart and charm as this film has. An outlandish premise delivers a seriously affecting final product that will really stick with you, despite what could be conceived as a downbeat ending, it still manages to leave you with a feeling of optimism, and, more importantly, a massive smile on your face.