LFF 2019: ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’: Super Empowering

Zak is a grown man stuck in an institution where he dreams of escaping and becoming a wrestler. He has Down syndrome and is therefore underestimated by those responsible for his care. Breaking free he runs into Tyler (Shia Labeof), a man on the run. The two flee their respective authorities and grow closer on the road.

The film works as well and as naturally as it does because of the excellent performance of Zack Gottsagen and his chemistry with Shia Labeouf. The two achieve a compassionate understanding which may be trite but is very warm. Gorgeous cinematography and a charming score make this an irresistible tale of friendship in the bayous.

The narrative isn’t terribly complex. Tyler is saintly with a brusk exterior that’s quickly brushed aside and the film fails to truly challenge cinematic depictions of disabled people by giving him a character flaw beyond his disability. The film aspires to a Mark Twain quality and it certainly has the charming feel of a tall tail.

The film recognises that one of the most essential part of life is risk. The ability to undertake risky endeavours is a key part of pursuing happiness that is often denied to disabled people due to condescending attitudes. Zak faces institutionalisation for the convenience of others, denying him the possibility of finding a life he wants to live. His gradual escape may be fanciful but it’s hugely enjoyable.

Dakota Johnson is excellent as Zak’s carer, Eleanor. She’s thoroughly misguided but truly believes she is acting in the best interests of Zak and that the home is his only option. If challenging the restricting attitudes of non-disabled people is to be achieved, offering them a compassionate and non-stereotypical avatar in this narrative is a great place to start. Her romance with Shia Labeof may leave something to be desired (featuring negging, coercian and some good old fashioned force) but it’s hardly the worst cinematic seduction she’s experienced.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a good-natured comedy drama that deliver’s it’s message of empowerment in a sugary coating. Although sometimes saccharine, it has a lot of good to give. It’s a bit like fish smeared with peanut butter.

Four Stars

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