The Peanut Butter Falcon
|The Peanut Butter Falcon|
Theatrical release poster
|Distributed by||Roadside Attractions|
|Box office||$19.9 million|
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a 2019 American comedy-drama film directed and written by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, and starring Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal and Thomas Haden Church. Its plot follows a young man with Down syndrome (Gottsagen) who escapes from an assisted living facility and befriends a wayward fisherman on the run (LaBeouf); as the two men form a rapid bond, a social worker (Johnson) attempts to track them.
The film had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 9, 2019, and was given a limited theatrical release in the United States on August 9, 2019, by Roadside Attractions. The film went on to become a sleeper hit, expanding its release over the ensuing weeks, and grossing over $19 million.
Zak, a 22-year-old with Down syndrome, lives in a retirement home in North Carolina where he is cared for by Eleanor. He dreams of becoming a professional wrestler and attending the wrestling school of his hero, the Salt Water Redneck, whose videos he watches obsessively. After a failed escape attempt, Zak sneaks out of the home late at night with the assistance of his elderly roommate, Carl. He stows away on a small fishing boat for the night.
Tyler, a troubled thief and fisherman, is turned away from selling his stolen crabs at the local crab shack because he does not have a license. After a confronation with the crabbers, he burns $12,000 worth of equipment on the docks and is pursued by the incensed miscreants Duncan and Ratboy. Tyler steals the boat Zak is hiding on and takes off. He discovers Zak on board and attempts to leave him behind once they reach shore; however, he later witnesses a thirteen-year-old bullying Zak to jump in the water, even though he can't swim. Tyler intervenes and permits Zak to come with him, and agrees to accompany Zak to the wrestling school en route to his ultimate destination of Florida.
Duncan and Ratboy spread the word in their ongoing search for Tyler, while Eleanor searches for Zak. Eleanor and Tyler cross paths at a convenience store, where Tyler denies having seen Zak. During their travels Tyler teaches Zak how to swim and fire a gun, and encourages his self-confidence. During a river crossing they are nearly struck by a passing boat, and they encounter a blind religious man, who baptizes Zak and gives them supplies to make a raft to complete their journey down river. They celebrate that night by getting drunk on the beach, and Zak invents a wrestling persona for himself: The Peanut Butter Falcon. The pair had been eating peanut butter extensively because it was the one grocery item that was affordable.
The next morning, Eleanor discovers their camp, and attempts to persuade Zak to come back with her. Tyler convinces her to accompany them on their journey instead, which she agrees to on the condition that they return to the home after reaching the wrestling school. They sail the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and Tyler and Eleanor argue over how much freedom Zak ought to have. That night, while they shelter in a seaside shack, Duncan and Ratboy burn their raft and threaten to shoot Tyler's hand. Zak uses Tyler's shotgun to defend his friends.
The three arrive in the wrestling school's town and search for Salt Water Redneck's home. They discover the school has been closed for over a decade and the Redneck, now known as Clint, is no longer a wrestler. Zak is disappointed, but shakes Clint's hand and they leave. Eleanor learns that Zak will be transferred to a recovery home for drug addicts upon return, while Tyler wants Eleanor to come with him to Florida. They are approached by Clint, now dressed as the Salt Water Redneck. Moved by Tyler's earlier speech, he agrees to take on Zak as a protégé.
Clint trains Zak, and sets him up for a staged fight against a friend, Sam. Eleanor, alarmed by the violence on display, does not want Zak to take part. Tyler and Elenor kiss, but he uses the moment to handcuff her to a steering wheel to prevent her from intervening. A nervous Zak plays to the crowd as he enters the ring, and Sam, envious of Zak's reception, does not fight clean. Spotting Duncan and Ratboy in the crowd, Eleanor frees herself and attempts to warn Tyler as Zak overcomes his fear and throws Sam from the ring, winning the fight. Duncan strikes Tyler with a tire iron, knocking him unconscious as the fight ends.
At the hospital, Zak and Eleanor wait while Tyler is attended to. Eleanor, Zak, and the bandaged Tyler drive to Florida.
- Shia LaBeouf as Tyler
- Dakota Johnson as Eleanor
- John Hawkes as Duncan
- Zack Gottsagen as Zak
- Bruce Dern as Carl
- Jon Bernthal as Mark
- Thomas Haden Church as Clint / The Salt Water Redneck
- Mick Foley as Jacob, the referee of Zak and Sam's wrestling match
- Jake "The Snake" Roberts as Sam
- Yelawolf as Ratboy
- Dylan Odom as Wrestler
The film is a modern retelling of the Huckleberry Finn story, which takes Gottsagen's own desire to be an actor and changes it into a quest to become a wrestler. Nilson and Schwartz first met Zack Gottsagen at a camp for disabled actors around 2011 in Venice, California, and he expressed interest in them making a film with him. After shooting a $20,000 proof-of-concept video, the duo received funding for a feature starring Gottsagen. The project was officially announced in June 2017, with Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, and Bruce Dern also starring. In July 2017, production began in Georgia. Later that month, John Hawkes, Jon Bernthal, and Thomas Haden Church were added to the cast, with professional wrestlers Mick Foley and Jake Roberts and rapper Yelawolf making appearances in the film.
Schwartz and Nilson wanted to play the music that inspired them while writing, and on set used a boombox to play the same music before performing a scene. The soundtrack brings together bluegrass, folk songs, and spirituals, for a mix of contemporary and timeless. The soundtrack contains original music composed by Zach Dawes, Jonathan Sadoff of Thenewno2, and Noam Pikelny and Gabe Witcher of Punch Brothers, as well as new and classic songs from Sara Watkins, Chance McCoy of Old Crow Medicine Show, Gregory Alan Isakov, Ola Belle Reed, and the Staple Singers. They were surprised to be able to secure the rights to many of the songs they used at a fraction of the cost they expected.
The film had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 9, 2019. Shortly after, Roadside Attractions acquired distribution rights to the film, and released it in theaters on August 9, 2019.
In its limited opening weekend on August 9, the film grossed $205,200 from 17 theaters. The studio reported that the film was number one in more than half of the theaters it played at, including "a big commercial multiplex in Salt Lake City," and locations in Los Angeles, Dallas, Charlotte, Denver and Austin, with "lots of sellouts in various markets." The film expanded wide on August 23, to 991 theaters, and grossed $3 million for the weekend, finishing 12th. It went on to become a sleeper hit, expanding the following weekend to 1,249 theaters and earning $3 million, as well as $1.1 million on Labor Day.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 95% based on 144 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A feelgood adventure brought to life by outstanding performances, The Peanut Butter Falcon finds rich modern resonance in classic American fiction." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 26 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare average grade of "A+," while those at PostTrak gave it an average 4.5 out of 5 stars and a 62% "definite recommend."
Peter Debruge of Variety praised the performances, saying "In Gottsagen, we get a performer who appears to be playing an earnest, unfiltered version of himself, while in LaBeouf, there are layers at play. Oddly enough, both approaches result in a kind of spontaneous unpredictability." He called the film "a feel-good niche indie with its priorities in the right place." Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "[Gottsagen's] sensibility infuses the modern-day fable with an engaging forthrightness. But the unequivocal material often sticks close to the surface, and the film built around him, for all its physical sweep, can feel constricted by obviousness."
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