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Movie Review

In ‘Peanut Butter Falcon,’ it’s the WWE or bust

Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, and Shia LaBeouf in “The Peanut Butter Falcon.”Roadside Attractions and Armory Films

In the homespun dramedy “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” actor Zack Gottsagen, a newcomer with Down syndrome, does capable and frequently amusing work as a young man with colorful aspirations for pro-wrestling glory. Shia LaBeouf also finds a solid outlet for his idiosyncratic tastes and intensity, playing a troubled laborer-on-the-run befriended by this steadfast dreamer. And Dakota Johnson is agreeably cast as an emotionally invested nursing-home caregiver fretting about where fictionalized “Zak” is headed, geographically and otherwise.

For all of its engaging performances, this thoughtful yarn from the filmmaking tandem of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz is limited by a quaintly straightforward story line. Every choice the characters opt for, every bit of self-discovery they make, is as scripted as a rasslin’ baddie’s folding-chair cheap shot.


From Zak’s driven vantage point, the biggest obstacle keeping him from the ring is that he’s been cast off in an old-timers’ home, in the care of staffers disinclined to let him simply run away. With the help of one especially wily patient (Bruce Dern, part of a nifty supporting ensemble), Zak eventually does make his getaway, exhilarated but at something of a loss. He knows his destination: a wrestling academy hyped on old VHS tapes by circuit legend the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church, entertainingly dropping down a couple of octaves to WWE huskiness). But how the heck to get there, a journey that involves traveling the length of North Carolina’s picturesquely shot Outer Banks?

Meanwhile, Tyler (LaBeouf) is making a getaway of his own, fleeing some fishermen (notably John Hawkes, of “Deadwood”) who’ve got a brutally serious beef with him. When Tyler discovers Zak hiding in his skiff, his instinct is to ditch him. But as the unlikely pair ultimately stick together and bond, they establish that Tyler, like Zak, is what the wrestling crowd would tab as a hero. (He’s a passable trainer, too.) Tyler can play it as drawlingly gruff as he pleases, and Zak can adopt the fiercest, Skippy-smeared persona he can dream up — they’ll always still be the good guys.


Publicity for “Falcon” teases the action as a contemporary riff on Mark Twain, and the filmmakers’ pursuit of this tone is clear enough, from the fellas’ various close-call misadventures to their cobbling together of a scrap-lumber raft. Eleanor (Johnson) catches up and joins them for some lazy-hazy sailing, butting heads with Tyler before seeing past his rough edges as Zak does. We can see the full picture clearly, too — so much so, finally, that this easygoing odyssey offers no real surprises.

★ ★ ½

Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen. At Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square, suburbs. 96 minutes. PG-13 (thematic content, language throughout, some violence, smoking).