I wonder what Mark Twain would thin about professional wrestling? I bet he would embrace the fantastical elements of it and write a story of his protagonists floating down the Mississippi to reach a wrestling school.
Or not. However, the idea has merit as it is shown in the new film The Peanut Butter Falcon.
Zak (Zack Gottsagen) was a young man with Down’s Syndrome was being cared for in a nursing home and watching an old VCR tape of professional wrestling and his hero, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church). Zak decided to take off on a quest to reach the wrestling school, run by the Redneck, and, in order to accomplish this, he had to escape from the nursing home.
After his great escape, Zak comes across Tyler (Shia LaBeouf),a small time crook on the run, and the two of them form a friendship. Tyler promised Zak that he would get him to the wrestling school. The are joined by Zak’s caregiver at the nursing home, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), at first unwillingly.
There is a lot of sweetness in the relationship between Tyler and Zak. It is funny and engaging as the pair continue their voyage, at first by foot and eventually on raft down the river. There is an absolute feel of Tom Sawyer in this film and Mark Twain is even referenced during the movie. You can see how the big-hearted Zak wins over Tyler, who originally saw him as a nuisance, but developed real feeling for the kid as they moved on.
Tyler was also refreshingly positive in his message toward Zak. He was not afraid to even point out to Eleanor how her manner with Zak was sending a negative message. Tyler and Zak together certainly made the movie.
However, I am not sure I bought the eventual romantic relationship that developed between Eleanor and Tyler. It felt like something shoehorned into the film because it was expected. I take nothing away from Dakota Johnson because she played her part beautifully.
The third act of the film was mostly awesome. We got to see Jake “The Snake” Roberts appear along with Mick Foley, two of my all-time favorite professional wrestlers. It was great to see them, even though their roles were minor. The part involving Jake and Mick was such a fantasy that it felt almost dreamlike.
However, I had a big problem with the very end of the movie. It is hard to talk about it without spoiling the film but let’s just say that the section where they make it look like one thing had happened only to reveal that it had not was too emotionally manipulative for me and left a bit of bad taste in my mouth.
I had a few other issues. The film started a little slow and it had some conveniences that happened to move the plot forward. These were moments where the really great film took a few steps back for me. But these were few and far between in an overall excellent movie.
A huge shout out needs to go to Zack Gottsagen who does an exceptional job overall in the role of Zak. Gottsagen does have Down’s Syndrome and can really be inspirational for anyone who may be inflicted by something that they cannot control. His performance was the heart of the movie and was very impressive.
On the whole, I really liked this heart-warming movie. While there are some issues that knocked down the score, The Peanut Butter Falcon provided some great performances and a story that could be inspiring. It is one of the best Shia LaBeouf performances in a long time.