Remember Sesame Street’s Julia? The first autistic Muppet? I love what that wonderful sign of children’s media has done to bring further developmental disorder recognition to the mainstream, something I never had growing up! Coming from somebody on the autism spectrum, I’m overjoyed to see a positive representation become the focus of The Peanut Butter Falcon, where a guy with Down Syndrome, Zak, escapes his retirement home onto the moonlit street wearing only underwear; on his quest toward Florida, he meets a new friend.
Now, “What‘s the key to friendship?” The answer is in this motion picture.
First off, the film’s weak spots include a missed opportunity to plant political correctness issues, primarily in Zak’s lack of apparent connection with most of the other characters. It focuses more on a pretty typical relationship story instead, one where a total jerk must tolerate an intolerable partner on the road, until the disdain transforms into friendship. Although here, the familiar plot is handled more subtly, and meets its resolution earlier into the runtime. That way, more of the film can be spent on things that aren’t too familiar, such as a secret handshake! It starts with the total jerk’s decision to stay besides Zak after a kid bullies the poor victim, then he helps his new follower cross a river via a raft made from pants, until a shrimp boat riding past creates the most stressful movie scene of 2019, thanks to the careful cinematography.
Some pretty scenery throughout the feature differs from places normally called beautiful, it’s mostly junky beaches where hungover hooligans party around a campfire, even throwing in stormy rains on occasion to stir up the conflict further. The way these unflattering locations are framed to look calming to the eye enlightens the invisible beauty like that of an easily overlooked individual. Should Zak be out here instead of his retirement home though? It’s made sure that both sides of the issue are addressed; ultimately boiling down to the emphasis on why small spaces around old people works out bad for Zak’s livelihood. Just be sure to pay careful attention to these arguments though, or the wrong ideas about good role models may be unconsciously picked up.
Delving further into the good stuff, the acting paces itself like a heron, Shia LaBeouf gives among his career’s best as a fisherman who gets fired after stealing harvested crab, not to mention it’s so refreshing to see Dakota Johnson redeem her supposedly unredeemable role as Anastasia Steele! In fact, extra time should have been spent on the retirement home to give Dakota more acting range, so that she could be more on par with the rest of the cast. Among the ensemble, a blind man’s standout 10/10 performance spiritually guides a boat construction, he acts like a true God figure who supervises Zak, his pale eyes full of fiber as they glace like a submerged alligator. He sets a powerful contrast against the coaches and nursing home staff who called Zak a “retard” over the years, a contrast that leads to Zak’s baptism, which in turn connects to his fear of swimming. This water remains a prevalent metaphor, symbolizing the fear Zak must confront again and again.
Zak showcases genuine acting power despite the Down Syndrome Zak’s real-life actor has, also named Zack. He understands the role to such a deep spiritual level and conveys the truth of how anyone remains dead until going out to survive dangerous places, which to him looks like walking on eggshells. Zak thinks his condition marks him villainous, but the fisherman is different, because he too fears being the bad guy.
It has been said by many before that, “friends are family,” which doesn’t strike me easy because forming relationships is my biggest difficulty. I began high school not learning any of the conversational rules I was expected to have possessed second nature by then, so had to learn through trial and error when I was saying something inappropriate to another. I’m glad though that despite my autism, I was able to form friendships over time, even if it takes me longer than others to learn the mechanics of socialization. Anyone with Down Syndrome can do the same, it’s all simply a matter of practice, trial and error, emotional support, and hope.
Even for those neurotypicals, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a movie that helps you stop letting your limitations halt you, with the simple power of family love! A family lifts you up to bear your pain, which only happens off trust built despite past hardships. That includes friends, as the more you know each other, the more you love each other. The more you love each other, the more a family sense is present. A song sung in the first Sesame Street episode introducing Julia tells kids how everyone carries different needs, yet if we treat others equal to anybody else, “we can all be friends!”
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
The Peanut Butter Falcon. Roadside Attractions LLC. Web. <http://www.thepeanutbutterfalconmovie.com/>.
Roadside Attractions. Zack Gottsagen (left) and Shia LaBeouf embark on a life-changing journey in “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” Digital image. Chicago Sun-Times. 22 Aug 2019. Web. <https://chicago.suntimes.com/2019/8/22/20826913/review-peanut-butter-falcon-corny-sweet-engaging-shia-labeouf-zack-gottsagen>.