It’s September, which means that we’ve finally reached my favorite season of the year. Oscar Season.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a perfect start to the art house and indie film segment of the film cycle. The film stars Zak (Zack Gottsagen), who plays a man with Down Syndrome. His character Zak runs from a state nursing home to have his hero, The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church), train him to become a professional wrestler. While running from his nursing home caretaker (Dakota Johnson), Zak meets a fisherman on the run named Tyler (Shia LeBeouf) and so begins a fantastical Mark Twain style film in the deep south.
On the surface, one could argue that The Peanut Butter Falcon is typical Oscar bait. The film has great acting, a great script, a diverse cast and is beautifully shot. These are all typical for Oscar films, but Falcon stands out because of its authenticity and boldness as well as because of the particular message that it carries.
For instance, actor Zak Gottsagen actually has Down Syndrome like his character. This makes The Peanut Butter Falcon groundbreaking and exciting, especially because Gottsagen’s performance is so great. Hollywood films are often criticized for their portrayal of people with special needs and for not casting actors in the films who actually have those needs. Recently, The Upside comes to mind. In that film, Actor Bryan Cranston gave an earnest performance of a man with Cerebral Palsy. However, Cranston doesn’t have Cerebral Palsy, there are actors who actually have Cerebral Palsy who should have been given a chance. Another film, Rain Man, featured Dustin Hoffman giving a beautiful portrayal of a man with Autism, but he also did not have the condition of the character he played.
Gottsagen isn’t the only standout of the film. LeBeouf plays his best role yet. LeBeouf has had quite a series of missteps lately in his acting career, but Falcon shows off his acting in an exciting way. LeBeouf and Gottsagen have chemistry that is off the charts, and their friendship is what drives the film. LeBeouf gives an astounding performance as he displays the many layers of his character, Tyler. He is a rough person, but also loves Zak so realistically and beautifully throughout the film. There’s a scene where Zak tells Tyler that he isn’t a hero because he is “a Down Syndrome person.” Tyler responds beautifully with a question: “What’s that got to do with your heart?”
The Peanut Butter Falcon’s message is clear and impactful. The film isn’t afraid to go to places that aren’t often shown on screen. Zak is consistently belittled by people around him, and the film is willing to tell audiences that putting people with Down Syndrome on a lower pedestal isn’t okay. Falcon delves into how beautifully Zak processes people who do not understand him. It also shows that his friends, though not always sure of what they’re doing, only want the best for him. In addition, it highlights how amazing friendships can be with people with special needs.
This is how The Peanut Butter Falcon sets itself apart as a different breed of feel-good Oscar contenders. The film is artfully constructed into a piece of cinema that will not be forgotten.