While I was walking out of the auditorium, after the very last note in the wonderful soundtrack that plays through the credits, a fellow audience member said “It makes me feel better about being a human being.”
I think, I hope, she referred to “Peanut Butter Falcon,” the sweetest film to hit the big screen this year.
It is certainly not the most realistic film of the year. This requires extreme suspension of disbelief. So I encourage you to consider this a kind of fantasy about friendship, love … and wrestling.
The star is newcomer Zack Gottsagen, who plays Zak, a man in his 20s who is a resident of a retirement home because he has no family to help care for him. One of the first scenes shows Zak in an escape attempt, after which he is deemed a flight risk by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) who works at the facility.
Zak’s friend and partner in crime is Carl (Bruce Dern) who encourages the younger man to follow his dream of attending a wrestling academy run by his hero, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Zak spends hours watching the wrestler on a VHS tape.
Finally, with some coaching from Carl, Zak makes his escape in nothing but underwear.
In the meantime, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is running away from a couple of guys who mean business – they’re really out to get him. He ends up crossing paths with Zak, who clearly needs help getting to the wrestling academy.
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Zak tags along with Tyler, who isn’t sure what to make of Zak. Eleanor, under orders from her boss to find Zak so the police don’t get involved, is hot on Zak’s trail.
Eventually, Tyler befriends Zak, pointing out his strengths and encouraging him to keep working out to build up his muscle. Zak welcomes the freedom of sleeping under the stars and the feel of adventure he shares with Tyler.
There’s a loving nod to “Huckleberry Finn” here, complete with a raft and, of course, a river, quirky characters the duo meet along the way, and the discovery of a surprising friendship. Gottsagen and LaBeouf have a real chemistry that comes across beautifully, especially in the beginning of their tentative teambuilding.
The story, against beautiful cinematography, ambles pleasantly along to a marvelous Americana soundtrack that’s the best thing since “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” with the likes of Ola Belle Reed and Sara Watkins, backed by a gorgeous score composed by Zach Dawes, Jonathan Sadoff and members of The Punch Brothers, who earned the 2018 Grammy for Best Folk Album.
I hope this movie will make you, too, feel better about being a human being.