The Peanut Butter Falcon Parent Guide
A sometimes tender, sometimes hilarious, sometimes painful buddy movie/road trip on a river. Kind of hard to categorize this one.
Parent Movie Review
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a perplexing movie. Is it a heartwarming Huck Finn tale of two renegades on the run, figuring out if they’re the good guys or bad guys in their own stories? Or is it a modern attempt to tackle how we relate to, communicate with, and treat people with disabilities? Having watched the film and ruminated over it at length, I still can’t give you a firm answer. I think the response is subjective – and you’ll need to decide for yourself.
Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a twenty-two year old man with Down Syndrome. He has no family and has been warehoused in a nursing home because the state lacks an appropriate facility. Not surprisingly, Zak decides to escape and pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler. He’s even picked his own stage name - The Peanut Butter Falcon. Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a crab fisherman who steals other fishermen’s catches. This is risky and, having been trapped in a sticky position, he commits an unplanned act of arson, putting him on the run from the law. When Tyler and Zak cross paths, they pair up as they try to avoid their pursuers on their journey towards freedom.
The highlight of the film is the relationship between Tyler and Zak. Both Gottsagen’s and LaBeouf’s performances shine. Their relationship is kind, real, and enjoyable to watch. Tyler is simultaneously protective of Zak and supportive of his independence. Others treat him disrespectfully or are overly protective. Zak is portrayed as a real person, and is not painted, as people with disabilities often are in films, as a saint, an angel, or a gift to those around him. He’s hilarious, insightful, irreverent, and a bit of a troublemaker. While others, including audience members, might be dismissive of Zak’s impulsive generosity, Tyler understands Zak and respects the sincerity with which he acts on his emotions. This is easily the best part of the movie.
Thankfully this rich relationship is supported by excellent performances by the lead actors, particularly Zack Gottsagen’s. Having a person with Down Syndrome actually portrayed by an actor with Down Syndrome makes the film more authentic and pushes back against Hollywood’s penchant for having disabled characters played by big stars or non-disabled actors. Gottsagen brings an innocence to his portrayal along with a sweetness and occasional hilarity that make the performance a high point of the film.
The most difficult part of going to see the The Peanut Butter Falcon, is watching people mistreat and abuse Zak, especially because this is a reality for many people with disabilities. The sheer cruelty was enough to make me recoil in empathetic pain and disgust – and parents will want to keep this in mind as they consider this movie for family viewing. This is definitely not a story for kids, but older teens might be interested in some of the questions raised in the film, unless they will be too upset by the bullying scenes on the big screen.
Surprisingly for me, seeing the movie in a crowded theater made the experience worse as I listened to the audience laugh at Zak. There is a difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone and I wasn’t sure if the rest of the audience saw that line the same way I did. I think I would have preferred to watch the movie alone. There was something about the large crowd in the theater that made it feel more Elephant Man than I was comfortable with. So, I guess what I’m saying is, go and see The Peanut Butter Falcon. But maybe go to a Tuesday matinee when everyone’s at work so you won’t feel like you’re part of a crowd laughing at a disabled man. You will be able to enjoy this warm, human story much better on your own.Directed by Tyler Nilson & Mike Schwartz. Starring Zack Gottsagen, Shia LaBeouf, and Dakota Johnson.. Running time: 93 minutes. Theatrical release August 23, 2019. Updated August 23, 2019
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The Peanut Butter Falcon
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Peanut Butter Falcon rated PG-13? The Peanut Butter Falcon is rated PG-13 by the MPAA
Violence: Professional wrestling clips are seen throughout, as a main character dreams of being a wrestler. A person is tackled while trying to escape. Another character is beat up by a group of men, being kicked while on the ground repeatedly. Someone pulls a knife on another character threatening them to be silent. A boat chase occurs, with intent to hurt or kill. A kid is punched by an adult after bullying another character. A character is almost run over by a high-speed boat, and it’s very intense. Someone is ambushed at night and held at gunpoint as they cower on the ground. A live wrestling match occurs, and it’s relatively violent, with someone being beat with a chair: there is some blood. There is another wrestling match where a character hits much harder than agreed upon while fighting a disabled character - it is difficult to watch. A character is hit in the back of the head with a tire iron - the actual hit is not seen, but the wind up is violent and then the screen cuts to black.
Sexual Content: A couple kisses. One character spends a decent amount of screen time in nothing but his underpants. The top of another character’s backside is seen while he relieves himself. A character jumps into the lake in a t-shirt and underwear.
Profanity: There are approximately 44 uses of profanity and crude language in the film. Countless mild swears slipped into conversations, sexual slang terms are used throughout, and well over three dozen scatological curses, and a single use of a sexual expletive. Developmental slurs are frequently used.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Characters drink and smoke constantly throughout the movie. Flashbacks to drinking and smoking in a bar occur. Homemade moonshine is shared and consumed. At one point, main characters get so drunk they pass out. Main and secondary characters can be seen smoking throughout the movie. A main character rolls his own cigarettes.
Page last updated August 23, 2019
The Peanut Butter Falcon Parents' Guide
Do you know anyone with Down Syndrome? Do you know anything about this genetic condition? What stereotypes do people have about those with Down Syndrome? What can you do to be more empathetic and respectful towards people around you who are disabled in some way?
Facts about Down Syndrome: National Down Syndrome Society
Facts about Down Syndrome: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Combating stereotypes about Down Syndroms: Kids Wish Network
How to build relationships with people with disabilities:
Loved this movie? Try these books…
The classic buddy story is Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ostensibly a story of Huck Finn’s raft trip down the Mississippi with Jim, a runaway slave, the novel delves deeply into profound philosophical questions.
Another classic road trip story is told in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. To win a bet, Phileas Fogg and his devoted manservant, Passepartout, head off on a madcap adventure around the world.
John Steinbeck penned his memoir Travels with Charley in Search of America about a cross country road trip he made with his poodle.
Down Syndrome has featured in a number of novels. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards tells the story of a doctor who delivers his wife’s twins and discovers that his daughter has Down Syndrome. He tells his wife the girl is dead and gives her to the nurse to take to an institution. But the nurse leaves town and raises the girl on her own. Jewel by Bret Lott features Brenda Kay, a child with special challenges who is born to Jewel and Leston. Chosen by Oprah’s Book Club, this novel is a rich, moving tale.
Raising a child with Down Syndrome brings unexpected challenges and delights. Kathryn Lynard Soper has edited Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives. In Road Map to Holland: How I Found My Way Through My Son’s First Two Years With Down Syndrome, Jennifer Graf Groneberg shares her experience in learning that one of her twins had Down Syndrome.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have Down Syndrome, you will want to read Count Us In: Growing Up with Down Syndrome. Written by Jason Kingsley and Mitchell Levitz, this book is their first person account of life with Down Syndrome.
Related home video titles:
There are a number of films about people who experience developmental delays or who are not neurotypical. Adam tells the story of a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome and his relationship with a warmhearted neighbor. A Beautiful Mind is based on the real life story of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a brilliant mathematician with mental illness. A physically disabled young man becomes fast friends with another boy with cognitive delays in The Mighty.