Dream chaser: 'The Peanut Butter Falcon' is a joyous crowd pleaser

The Peanut Butter Falcon (Photo: Road Side Attractions/ Armory Films)
Zack Gottsagen and Shia LaBeouf in a scene from “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” (Photo: Road Side Attractions/ Armory Films)

"The Peanut Butter Falcon"
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Writers: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Rated: PG-13

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Zak is a young adult with Down syndrome who decides to run away from the nursing home that he has been sent to live in. Determined to train with The Salt Water Redneck, his favorite professional wrestler, Zak teams up with Tyler, a troubled man on the run.

Review: There aren’t many acting opportunities for actors with Down syndrome. So, when Zack Gottsagen asked Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz to help make him a movie star their only real option was to write, produce and direct a film built around Gottsagen. Nilson and Schwartz had made short films and commercials; this would be their first feature film.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a feel-good film that doesn’t sell its soul to convention and sentimentality. It’s filled with a genuine warmth and a sense of fantasy that is grounded in Gottsagen’s spirit and performance. It was willed into being; a true labor of love.

Despite being a debut feature, the supporting cast includes familiar names like Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal and Thomas Haden Church and former professional wrestlers Jake Roberts and Mick Foley.

Hollywood has soured on LaBeouf’s eccentricities, but he’s always been a quality actor and he’s more likable here than you’d expect. His character, Tyler, isn’t a model citizen by any stretch, but you’re likely to root for him nonetheless.

Church’s performance as the Salt Water Redneck is given an incredible amount of depth despite his limited screen time. His story is tragic in its own bitter sweet way.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a bit rough around the edges, but its story of flawed individuals chasing down their dreams is more inspirational than a thousand Hallmark Channel films.

My fear going into the movie was that casting an actor with Down syndrome would feel like a gimmick. That’s not the case at all. It’s not exploitative. It respects its characters and its audience.

You’ll leave the theater with a smile, I promise. I hope the Down syndrome community and its family and friends see this film. You can do anything with a little help from your friends.