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New films: The Peanut Butter Falcon, Ready or Not, Angel Has Fallen

Still from The Peanut Butter Falcon, showing three people on a makeshift raft at sunset.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Written and Directed by Tyler Nilsen and Mike Schwartz

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is one of those films that manages to feel unique and yet reminiscent of other films at the same time. Fifteen years ago, the small Irish film “Rory O’Shea was Here” (originally with the far better title of “Inside I’m Dancing” and heavily featured in that year’s Irish Film and TV Awards) co-starred James McAvoy and Steven Robertson as two young people with severe disabilities, stuck in a care home primarily for seniors. That premise is seen again here with Zack Gottsagen as a young man, Zak, with Down syndrome similarly surrounded by those four times his age, including his incorrigible roommate Carl (played by Bruce Dern).

Zak longs to escape the home where, just as in the earlier film, he’s out of place but for a diagnosis that declares him in need of assistance. But his frustration is also reminiscent of that of one of the older in-patients in a similar residential facility, in “The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” another delightful and largely overlooked foreign film (in this case Swedish) that probably only popped up on people’s radars for its well-deserved Oscar nomination for makeup and hairstyling.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” blends those ideas along with evocative imagery of the US South, in particular of economic depression and lives eked out on the water, as also seen recently in films such as “Mud” (winner of the Robert Altman Independent Spirit Award) and quadruple Oscar nominee “Beasts of the Southern Wild”  (both 2012). None of which is intended as a name-dropping exercise in film trivia, but rather as an indication that the other films this one brings to mind are all of such high quality and reputation. And yet it still makes a unique impression as an original and noteworthy work.

Zak absconds from the home, with Carl’s help, intent on finding the wrestling school he’s watched countless times on his prized possession, an old VHS tape. This brings him into contact with Tyler (Shia LaBeaouf), a down on his luck fisherman in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Although we’re not entirely sure of Carl’s relationship with Zak, Tyler is perhaps the first person who’s ever seen him as a person, rather than specifically as a person with a disability – in what’s almost a performative depiction of the concept behind person-first terminology. At first this delays Tyler offering Zac help, as he doesn’t immediately assume he needs it or is his responsibility, and Tyler is also struggling with his own inability to support himself.

But at its core, this is a film about friendship and seeing a person for whom they really are, rather than what the world assumes them to be. Zac and Tyler are both lonely, lost, empathetic individuals who meet at the right time. And LaBeouf, at risk of too much of a pun, delivers a transformative performance – sometimes to the point of distraction, as you sit and watch a talent that was so often hidden under the excesses of massive action films and franchises, and peeking out in understated films like this and 2016’s “American Honey,” seemingly channeling or harnessing his own personal struggles.

Gottsagen brings a refreshing talent and authenticity to the project, with both actors supported wonderfully by Dakota Johnson as Eleanor, a young woman with struggles of her own, tasked with finding and returning Zak to the relative misery of the home. Johnson is also fifty shades more radiant here than in her showier work.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a delightful gem of a movie, made by filmmakers who also know when to break the spell a little and have fun with what might otherwise be a heavy moment. As Tyler tells Zak, the trick is to have a neat story to tell, and the film ably follows its own internal advice.

Moviebriefs

The dark comedy “Ready or Not” teeters on the edge of success in its depiction of an insane family tradition on a young couple’s wedding night. The problem being the balance of tone, with dark comedies in need of at least as much comedy as darkness, where this film perhaps strays a little too from that mark, relying more on gag effect than gag. Often that’s enough for me too, but I think one has to try a little harder for a laugh than simply detonating body parts. That said, it’s not a film that ever expected to be judged by any standard other than fun and it will likely deliver for most people who find the violent silliness appealing, helped by a strong and appealing cast.

Gerard Butler returns as either the world’s least likely American or the world’s least likely Secret Service agent, or both, in “Angel Has Fallen.” This third time around the block for agent Mike Banning follows the tried and trusted, or tired, formula of a hero mistaken for a villain, who has to solve a crime while also clearing his own name. There’s nothing new here, especially after the drone attack frenzy of “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” but if all you want or need from a film is another generic hero facing odds that are stacked against him, this might hot the spot. If there was a saving grace for me, it was the welcome appearance of Nick Nolte as Banning’s long lost, and equally explosive, father.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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