I've seen one of my favorite films of the year so far, and I hope more people go to the theater soon to watch this beautifully honest story.
When a young man with Down Syndrome escapes his care facility, he crosses paths with a gruff fisherman (played by Shia LaBeouf, American Honey, 2016) who helps him travel the backwoods of coastal North Carolina to attend a professional wrestling school. This story is told with such a relaxed simplicity and genuine heart that its themes of courage, kindness, and family will easily wash over any viewer. It's like an odd combination of the adventure films Huckleberry Finn (1974), The Defiant Ones (1958), and Stand by Me (1986).
But what makes The Peanut Butter Falcon unique is its lead character Zak played by a man with real Down Syndrome named Zak Gottsagen (Bulletproof, 2012). Instead of using this disability for cheap gags or crass jokes, the respectful directing (by partners Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, The Moped Diaries, 2014) helps Zak Gottsagen play a man who does have a disability, but who also has dreams, fears, loneliness, and depth. This actor's disability is not the only thing that defines him, and his disability is not exploited for laughs or tearful sympathy. When casting actors with disabilities, it's a very fine line separating true inclusion from blatant exploitation, and The Peanut Butter Falcon avoids the latter (mostly) by keeping the story focused, not on Zak's disability, but on his dreams, goals, and relationships.
The relationship of the 2 traveling companions is especially entertaining and funny with the youthful hope of one man (Gottsagen) balanced against the wistful fatigue of the other (LaBeouf). The writing and editing maintain a natural mood throughout of looseness and tentative partnership that develops into love. It's rare right now to find a current film that offers such heartbreaking honesty (and doesn't offer overly-manufactured sweetness). The ending tries too hard to be heroic and triumphant, but I don't care. The whole film is a moving experience without being too sentimental. I left the theater feeling happy but without being galvanized into a forced joy.