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Dateworthy: “Peanut Butter Falcon”

Last modified: September 6, 2019 mmBy Carl Kozlowski
Dateworthy: “Peanut Butter Falcon”

Is a date night to the movies to see “Peanut Butter Falcon” a good way to spend one of the last weekends of summer? YES!

The film is a feel-good and unique “Huck Finn”-style comic adventure. It features Shia LaBeouf in a terrific comeback role after several years of personal troubles. “Peanut Butter Falcon” follows what happens when a young man with Down Syndrome escapes from his assisted-living center to pursue his dream of meeting his favorite pro wrestler. He teams up with a rogue fisherman on a journey down a river to find him.

Sweet, funny, touching and life-affirming, it’s one of the year’s best films. It has a very positive Christian undertone to it as well.

One of the greatest powers a good film can have is the ability to bring viewers into the lives of people they normally wouldn’t encounter or even consider in real life. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is one of those movies. The film shines a light on a group of people who have been forgotten by society, but find deep connections and strength from each other.

It’s also a rare major movie to spotlight the life of an adult with Down  Syndrome. It’s refreshing to see a film that focuses on a man with mental retardation who still has hopes and dreams and a joie de vivre most people would envy.

Two unlikely friends help each other open each other’s eyes to a better world

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“Falcon” follows the story of Zak. He’s a thirty-something man with Down Syndrome (Zack Gottsagen) who has been forced to live in an assisted living facility as a ward of the state for the past 2 ½ years since his parents died. Zak obsessively watches an old VHS wrestling video from the 1980s in which a wrestler called the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church) unleashes an array of moves upon opponents. Those moves make Salt Walter Redneck Zak’s hero.

Zak wants to escape and learn wrestling from the Salt Water Redneck. So, he engages in a ridiculous yet effective plan to do so. He strips down to his underwear, lathers himself in baby oil and  slides through the bars of his room window into the night.

He hides under a tarp on a small boat owned by Tyler (Shia LaBeouf). Tyler is a shady local fisherman who is always illicitly fishing crabs in an area he’s not licensed to be in.

When Tyler burns a large pile of equipment owned by his rivals, he is forced to run for his life, not realizing that Zak is on his boat.

The two become unlikely friends. Tyler has nowhere to go and Zak begs him to take him down river to the Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school. They are joined by a young widowed social worker named Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). The assisted living facility ordered Eleanor to bring Zak back. But Eleanor suddenly feels that perhaps Zak is best served by living his life of adventure.

“Peanut Butter Falcon” is a modern-tale of redemption without being heavy-handed

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The unlikely and often unpredictable events that evolve from this journey are a true delight. The film (named after Zak’s chosen pro wrestling moniker) slowly but very surely reveals a Christian undercurrent.

Not only does Tyler slowly seek to change his ways for the better, but key songs throughout have gospel or Christ-centered lyrics without being heavy-handed. A man they encounter on their trip speaks happily about Jesus and faith as he hosts them for a night before baptizing Zak in a river the next day.

“Peanut Butter Falcon” has an incredible sweetness at its core, which should overcome its frequent use of relatively mild foul language.

The relationship that develops between Tyler and Eleanor is chaste and touching to behold. There’s also a real sense of triumph as Zak starts to realize his dreams.

An invaluably positive film about the mentally challenged at a time when society increasingly turns on them

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One of the film’s producers is Special Olympics chief Tim Shriver. This ensures a positive portrayal of a mentally challenged man who just wants to make friends and live life with some sense of independence and freedom. These universal desires make the movie eminently relatable, and parallels the real-life events that star Shia LaBeouf is undergoing now as he makes a comeback from several years of troubling behavior.

LaBeouf had been a rising star regarded as a possible successor to Tom Hanks as the preeminent and lovable Everyman on the big screen. Then he was detoured by apparent mental instability and repeated arrests for drunken behavior.  He has a film with great buzz coming out this fall called “Honey Boy” that he wrote about his difficult childhood with a mentally unstable dad. LaBeouf plays the role of his father pushing his son’s child acting career too far. It seems that he has come through his troubled phase with an artistic interest in redemptive plots.

Overall, this is a truly terrific movie that provides fresh entertainment in a summer overrun by sequels and superheroes.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is highly recommended as one of the best movies of the year.

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Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station www.radiotitans.com in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site Movieguide.org, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.

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