Nantucket Film Review: ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ Soars Into Oscar Season

Will this "little film that could" be our first Oscar contender of the year?

Nantucket Film Festival: Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson’s “The Peanut Butter Falcon” was one of the more buzzed about films coming into the Nantucket Film Festival. Following a rapturous first screening here, it will likely go out as the one most are talking about as well.

Zack Gottsagen stars in this southeastern fable as Zak, a 22-year-old with Downs syndrome whose family has abandoned him in a nursing home. He is cared after by his nurse Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), but despite her best efforts, has labeled Zak a flight risk following two failed escape attempts. Zak spends his days watching a worn out VHS tape of his favorite wrestler, “The Salt Water Redneck” (Thomas Haden Church), and dreams of becoming a professional wrestler under this pseudo-Hulk Hogan’s tutelage. He enlists the help of his roommate, Carl (a scrappy Bruce Dern), and plans an elaborate escape from the facilities in order to chase down his lifelong ambition.

Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a tidewater fisherman who lives on the other side of the proverbial tracks, has been down on his luck since the death of his older brother (Jon Bernthal). Tyler is on the run from the local crab-trapper, Duncan (John Hawkes), who is out for blood after Tyler destroys his fishing equipment.

With Eleanor on the chase to find Zak, and Duncan man-hunting Tyler, the unlikely pair meet by chance and decide to go on the lam together. While Tyler is an angry, despondent troublemaker, he slowly develops a brotherly concern for his big-hearted companion. As the trials and tribulations of the road strengthen their bond, they grow to become the family that each has lost. It becomes Tyler’s promise to see Zak to his destination, no matter what the cost.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon,” a name that Gottsagen came up with for his character’s alter ego, is one hell of an entertaining flick. Gottsagen gives one of the most endearing and inspirational performances of the year, and it is his very nature that allows this film to work at the level that it does. He is the heart and soul of the film, and is as genuine in real life as he is on screen.

LaBeouf gives a volatile and capricious performance, and if Gottsagen is the heart and soul, then LaBeouf is the self conscious. And though he seems to work effortlessly with his craft, his directors will remind you of the long amounts of time he spent learning the craftsmanship of his character for the performance. Gottsagen spoke highly of his colleague at the Q&A following the screening, mentioning the amount of time LaBeof helped Gottsagen with his lines. LaBeouf seems to continue to redefine his career, which has had a few ups and downs, but there is no question there is an incredible actor here. His path might be that of Matthew McConaughey’s career in some ways. This would be ironic due to the fact that McConaughey played the lead role in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud,” which was one of the films that helped inspire Schwartz and Nilson to write this delightful movie.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is an uproarious, odd-couple buddy flick that is laced with so many laugh-out-loud moments. It is a remarkable achievement and certain to go down as one of the best films of the year. Imagine if Mark Twain had written “Rain Man.” That’s what this film is. And it works exceptionally well. The audience in Nantucket gave the film a thunderous and sustained standing ovation, the only one of which I have seen while in Nantucket.

If it gets the right push, I believe it has the stuff of Best Picture winners. With the preferential ballot, this is exactly the type of film that could prevail.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is distributed by Roadside Attractions and is set for a August 9 release.

GRADE: (★)

CHECK OUT ALL THE OFFICIAL PREDICTIONS ON THE CIRCUIT HUB AND MAKE YOUR OWN!