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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Peanut Butter Falcon is an empowering road/buddy movie with themes of kindness and empathy. It's also powerful from a representation standpoint, as it centers on a character with Down syndrome (Zack Gottsagen). That said, some of the material is fairly mature. Viewers will see guns and shooting, violent wrestling sequences (with some blood), a character punching a kid, a knife held to someone's throat, and more. Language is fairly frequent, with a use of "f--k," plus several uses of "s--t," "bitch," "ass," "retard," and more. Characters flirt and kiss, the top of a male character's buttocks is shown, and another character wears nothing but underpants for several scenes. Characters drink a bottle of whiskey and suffer hangovers. There's also some smoking, as well as a flashback to a drunk driving incident. Shia LaBeouf, Bruce Dern, and Dakota Johnson co-star.
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What's the story?
In THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down syndrome. Because he has no family, he's forced to live in a retirement home, under the care of Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). One night, Zak escapes with the help of his roommate, Carl (Bruce Dern). Meanwhile, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is an outlaw North Carolina fisherman who's alone after his brother's death and so broke that he resorts to stealing crabs from others' traps. When Tyler angers two local crabbers (John Hawkes and Yelawolf), he goes on the run, with Zak quietly hidden in the bottom of his boat. As the pair make their way from North Carolina to Florida -- to the wrestling school Zak dreams of attending -- they slowly become friends. When a frantic Eleanor catches up to them, she has a tough choice to make: take Zak back, or let him keep pursuing his dream.
Is it any good?
Though the plot of this mismatched-buddies drama may feel overly familiar, the bold casting and watery setting provide a welcome edginess that enhances the inevitable sweetness, making it genuine. Co-written and co-directed by first-timers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon does follow a well-worn story arc, but the presence of Gottsagen -- who has Down syndrome in real life -- quickly ups the ante. The role of Zak was written directly for him, and he's instantly endearing. LaBeouf, meanwhile, is known for his irreverence and volatility, which makes it all the more notable when his character opens up and shows a softer side of himself. When that happens, it's a happy surprise -- and it's wonderfully honest.
Johnson, best known for playing Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades movies, completes the picture, likewise showing far more appealing vulnerability here. Largely filmed in Georgia, the movie makes beautiful use of land and sea, sun-baked shores and boats; it feels warm and open-aired, smelling like salt and fish. Yet it also conveys a realistic sense of desperation and menace, making the perils of the journey feel more concrete. In the end, The Peanut Butter Falcon shows great and rare compassion, not only for Zak, but for anyone who feels marginalized or misunderstood.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Peanut Butter Falcon's violence. Wrestling is shown as a violent sport, but also as one that can be empowering. How does the movie handle this? How did it make you feel?
Why is it important to see diverse characters in the media? How does this movie contribute from a representation standpoint? Is there anything stereotypical about Zak's portrayal? Did you learn anything?
How does the movie show bullying? How is it dealt with?
Is Tyler a role model, despite his criminal activities? If so, how? Is Zak?
- In theaters: August 9, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 12, 2019
- Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen
- Directors: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic content, language throughout, some violence and smoking
- Last updated: June 10, 2020
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