By Hunter Johnson
In “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” writers and directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz turn what could’ve been a standard retelling of the Huckleberry Finn story into a modern tale of discovery between a redneck fisherman and a runaway person with Down Syndrome.
Zak (played by Zack Gottsagen) is in his early twenties and has been treated differently his whole life because he has Down Syndrome. Having no family to look after him, he lives in a retirement home, where the staff don’t understand how capable he is, that is, until he meets Tyler.
Tyler (played by Shia LeBeouf) flips Zak’s life upside down by treating him just like anyone else. Over the course of the film, they go on a journey that contains makeshift rafts, tall-grass lakes, a crazy old blind man and near-death experiences.
Through it all, they build a friendship.
Zack Gottsagen actually is a person with Down Syndrome. The directors discovered him at a camp for disabled actors. They translated his dream to be an actor into his character’s dream of becoming a wrestler. Gottsagen will warm every heart in the theatre with his blissful innocence and hilarious hijinks.
His relationship with LeBeouf is apparent on and off the screen. Dakota Johnson, who plays Eleanor in the film, has spoken of the change that LeBeouf went through during the course of this filming process. She said the brotherly bond he formed with Gottsagen allowed him to become a warmer and kinder person by the final take.
LeBeouf and Gottsagen have heartwarming scenes that were never part of the script. The directors were enthusiastic about it this, and it makes “The Peanut Butter Falcon” feel refreshing and original.
Eleanor is Zak’s caretaker. She wants him to be safe and happy, but she differs from LeBeouf’s character on how to make that happen, which complicates the plot.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is one of the most beautifully shot films of the year. There are moments, like a campfire scene and a baptism in a swamp, that give off an energy of ethereal joy.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is an all around delightful film that’s filled to the brim with gorgeous visuals and poignant performances.
It’s one of the most engaging, feel-good films of the year.
Hunter Johnson is a sophomore theatre major and an arts and entertainment writer for Cedars. He spends his time acting on stage, reading and watching Star Wars and occasionally doing homework.