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The Peanut Butter Falcon

Year: 2019
Production Co: Armoury Films
Director: Tyler Nilson/Michael Schwartz
Writer: Tyler Nilson/Michael Schwartz
Cast: Shia LeBeouf, Zak Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, John Hawkes

A young man with Downs Syndrome wants to escape from the care home he lives in, the only place the state could find for him because he has no family. Another young man, a scruffy professional fisherman, gets into trouble with local hoods after he steals their catch and the disagreement escalates.

If you don't think this odd couple will become the best of friends, you've never seen a movie before. Zak (Zachary Gottsagen) has a childlike view of the world because of his condition, but he's single minded on his dream of being a professional wrestler.

Tyler (Shia Lebeouf) is a broken down cynic who's on the skids and running out of chances. When he runs afoul of some of his peers in the local crabbing industry, he doesn't realise Zak – who's made another break from his rest home – is hiding in his boat after walking all night, and after Tyler makes his escape he's got a whole new problem to deal with.

Also on their trail is Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), the social worker from the home who knows Zak only too well and has to find him and bring him back before the shit hits the fan with the authorities.

Zak wants to go and train with his hero, the Salt Water Redneck, after growing up watching grainy VHS tapes advertising his training school. For reasons I can't quite remember (probably to do with maintaining his cover), Tyler agrees to accompany Zak to his destination and the pair hike, paddle and camp all the way there, Eleanor trailing them all the way.

Like you'd expect, Tyler is none too impressed with having a mentally challenged young man tagging along while he's on the lam, but Zak follows him, as devoted as a lost puppy, assuming in his own way the pair are friends and will take care of each other.

The moment where Tyler finally falls in love with his new friend isn't really shown (or pivotal), but suddenly the previously sheltered Zak is really living for the first time – shooting guns, swimming, drinking, all the things most people around him would assume he'd never do, and you can see that Tyler would do anything for him.

Now, it's not to say The Peanut Butter Falcon isn't a serious story, but it's more a fairytale than a searing drama. You keep waiting for a group of mean kids or bigots to call Zak names or beat him up but it never really diverts from the affection and love everybody around Zak shows him – from Tyler's salt of the earth lifestyle to Eleanor's institutional care and even the broken down former wrestler (Thomas Haden Church) getting in on the act for Zak's sake.

And after finally meeting the boys and reluctantly falling in with them to fulfil Zak's quest as long as she can return him home afterwards, Eleanor and Tyler's interaction is prickly and suspicious, so it's either another fairytale element or an outright continuity/editing error when this well dressed professional woman and the bedraggled no-hoper are suddenly kissing each other, apparently having fallen in love.

Despite the controversies surrounding him in his real life, you can't deny Shia Lebeouf is a good actor, throwing himself into this role with particular energy like he does every part. Gottsagen, a real life Downs Syndrome sufferer, is playing himself and does so perfectly – acting in a movie would probably be hard work for someone with what he has.

I got the feeling the tone was inspired partly by the Huckleberry Finn myths, of travelling rough on America's waterways with your best friend and truly tasting life, and like that story, this movie is a warm hug with a minimum of darkness.

There's only one real mystery about it – I think the same thing every time I watch Everest – after such commanding turns in movies going right back to Sessions and Martha Marcy May Marlene, why isn't John Hawkes a major star?

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