Lyrical and wonderful, this one’s a keeper.
Actor Shia LaBeouf’s antics off-screen have made him something of a continuing question mark in Hollywood. The once promising young thespian seemed to have the world at his feet, following a star-making turn in “Transformers” and other big films. But, perhaps, as an intentional self-reinvention, LaBeouf turned his back on the big films, and opted for a string of smaller, artier projects. In a bold move, he has even laid himself bare with the upcoming “Honey Boy,” a film he wrote based on his own life experiences. In that one, he plays a controlling stage dad, presumably based on his own father.
In “The Peanut Butter Falcon” LaBeouf’s work hints that he’s ready to come back into the fold. Hollywood should take notice. As the grief-stricken Tyler, he plays his character as eternally frustrated and angry, capable of exploding at any moment. Carrying with him a prized shotgun, given to him by his deceased brother (played in flashback by Jon Bernthal), he certainly could be intimidating. But in one carefully paced scene, by exhibiting a subtle bit of humility, Tyler convincingly gains the trust of a fearful store clerk. Although a gun is constantly with him, Tyler is disarmed, and to anyone who takes time to speak with him, they find him disarming, as well.
Something of a modern take on “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the story has 22-year-old Zak (Zack Gottsagen) escaping from a nursing home and venturing out into the great unknown. Zak, who has down-syndrome, has spent two years pining away in the home and longs for some adventure. His aged roommate, Carl (a wonderful Bruce Dern), assists him, much to the dismay of a kind social worker named Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). Once on the outside, Zak encounters Tyler, who has just lost his job and, after a conflict with a mean-spirited crabber named Duncan (a menacing John Hawkes), Tyler has to leave town in a rush. He reluctantly takes Zak along for the ride. In no time, the two troubled souls bond and end up following the river meeting folks along the way, with Eleanor in pursuit.
“Peanut Butter Falcon” is parts revealing drama and endearing fantasy. While the elements never dip completely into myth, there is a whimsy to the narrative that is infectious. Much of this can be attributed to LaBeouf’s charisma, you just can’t take your eyes off the guy when he’s on screen, but, also, credit goes to Gottsagen, who is so authentic that it immediately gives the entire production a gravitas that other smaller films can’t easily achieve.
It might seem trite to call any film “heart-warming,” but there’s no denying it, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is easily one of the most-rewarding viewing experiences you are likely to have at the theater this year.