The Peanut Butter Falcon, or Shia Labeouf’s Redemption

***originally published on The Film Experience***

In a three hour line with five-hundred people you talk to them, you hear things. One thing I heard in a line for Us, and it’s a common refrain, is that “Shia Labeouf sucks.” Whether a product of Mutt hate out of Indy 4 or his own bad behavior, people think of the former Disney Channel star as a bad actor. They still see the Mouse House, Michael Bay, and Big Berg’s disappointment. Over the past several years he’s worked tirelessly to change that, starring in indie after indie in pursuit of artistic integrity. The Peanut Butter Falcon is the latest in said renaissance, a charming buddy drama about a mentally disabled young man (played by Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down Syndrome) who escapes from a rest home to hoof it to a pro-wrestling school and meet his long-time idol, The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Along the way he stows away on a motor dingy belonging to a crab fisherman (Labeouf), himself on the lamb from a bad deed. Radiant as ever, Dakota Johnson is the young man’s caretaker, charged with finding him among the rivers and swamps of Florida and Georgia.

A southern-fried odyssey in the spirit of Mark Twain, it’s a sweet little movie that uses optimism, not pessimism to surprise us. Funny thing it is, that in 2019 we’re surprised when bad things don’t happen. Labeouf is phenomenal, utilizing both his character actor bonafides and movie star charisma to create a sun-baked ruffian of the shores, a man for whom life is just getting by till he meets Zak. Their bond and real-life friendship is evident in every frame shared, a testament to filmmakers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. They let the boys riff and struck gold apparently, embracing, not eschewing sincerity. While it might be too slight to linger, it almost doesn’t matter. Funny, moving, and evoking a bit of fairy tale wonder, Peanut Butter Falcon is what happens when a film is made for all the right reasons. And hopefully, Labeouf will eventually get the respect he deserves. Depending on distribution and date, I don’t imagine a future Oscar campaign, but I do reckon it’ll figure into next year’s Indie Spirits.

Grade: B+

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