PG-13, for dubious morality, language, and violence. It's what you would consider in a typical PG-13 movie, but teaching someone with a disability that amorality is cool can get a little dicey. It's both touching and kinda gross at the same time. The movie never goes full into "laughing at" as opposed to "laughing with", but if the actions done to Zak were done to someone without disabilities, the scene would play very differently. On top of that, there's a lot of loosey goosey attitudes about what is best for people. While heartwarming, if this happened to someone you knew, it would be tragic.
DIRECTORS: Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
There's no winning by writing this. I don't become a better human being. I don't become a better writer. What few readers I have left will probably disappear on me. Also, there's a chance that the person who recommended this movie to me will see it and feel betrayed by my disappointment in this film. For the few people who disliked this movie, I probably can't even be considered that intense about the movie either. It's a movie that I simply think is overhyped because it's been done so many times before.
The credit it deserves is that it is a movie that actually offers proper representation. In the same way that Ben Kingsley wowed audiences by portraying a different race in Gandhi, it used to be cool to have an actor show off his chops by playing someone who lives with a disability. But like today, it's probably absolutely offensive to those actors who aren't being hired because they aren't handsome white males. Peanut Butter Falcon really hits on the same beats as Rain Man. If anything Rain Man offers something of more weight because it talks about the importance of family. But both Rain Man and Peanut Butter Falcon are trying to tap the same vein of sentimentality over substance. Zak's quest for independence is one that is valuable. But because everyone is completely enabling him, there's really no sense for long term growth. Zak is alone without a real sounding board. He's not really making wise decisions because he has no one to tell him the difference between a good choice. He has all these people who FEEL love for Zak, but ultimately aren't willing to make hard choices with him. His roommate, while good intentioned, doesn't have the familial responsibility to say that running away might be the worst thing for him.
Because that's something that the movie is violently ignoring: Zak might die by leaving the nursing home. Eleanor is the antagonist who is, for a period, the only responsible character in the film. Trust me, I get really angry at Eleanor by the end of the film. I'm not letting her off the hook. But at the beginning of the film, she's searching for Zak not because she wants to capture him, but because she's honestly concerned for his well being. After all, both Zak and Tyler almost get destroyed by a boat. (I'm not quite sure how they aren't destroyed by that boat, but I'm going to lay that aside to the fact that my eyes were rolling back into my head for a significant chunk of this film.) That scene, while meant to ratchet up tension in the film and create some sense of danger, is actually really telling that this entire narrative is extremely dangerous. Eleanor is aware of the problems out there, but we're supposed to be rooting for Zak and Tyler's journey to the wrestling school.
Tyler is a terrible character to graft onto. Absolutely the worst. For a storytelling perspective, Tyler is meant to grow with Zak. Because he's at this rock bottom place in his life, it gives him lots of room to grow. It's exactly what happens in the film. This dynamic is fairly standard in most storytelling. I would like Lady and the Tramp, although that changes the dynamic. Instead, I'm going to go Isle of Dogs. The gruff leader who needs to examine himself is a tempting protagonist. But Tyler's specific brand of rebellion is extraordinarily dangerous. The events of the story that have him on the run from the fishermen (that's right, isn't it?) is escalated by his destruction of the traps. When Zak attaches himself to Tyler, Tyler should be pointing out that the union would likely get Zak killed. There's this really casual attitude towards potential death over something that is pretty silly throughout.
Which brings me back to Eleanor. Eleanor sets out in this movie to save Zak from a world that is way more harsh than most. Zak has never been out on his own, has very specific needs, and is bonded with a guy who is on the run from people who want to kill him. When she catches up to Zak and Tyler, her worst fears are actually realized. This is the worst case scenario. But she somehow finds the entire situation charming. She distances herself from her character's needs and becomes a member of the audience. Yes, I too want Zak to become a wrestling champion. The film told me that is what is desirable and I can get behind that premise. But that goal is absurd. The film has to have an absurd ending for that quest because there's a real problem with that being a final result. Zak, as the Peanut Butter Falcon, needs years of training. He'd have to come to terms with the fact that he'd be treated as a sideshow act. On top of that, there's a right way to go and a wrong way to go. On the run is probably not the way to do that. However, Eleanor has the resources to actually do this properly.
Eleanor's not a perfect character at the beginning. She's close, but she's not perfect. I talked about how that antagonist is the one who actually has things right. Her problem is that she's overwhelmed by a crummy situation, so she can't see Zak's emotional needs as clearly as she needs to. What she learns in her hunt for Zak is the emotional necessity to make something out of his life. Great, that's a really good message. But with that knowledge doesn't mean that Zak can do whatever he wants in the way that he wants. Rather, her role is to take her advantages and contacts to figure out a plan instead of barreling forth to an ending that should have no chance of success. Please Stand By dealt with a very similar plot. But the protagonist's goal in Please Stand By was something reasonable and do-able. It was a series of responsible life choices that were being undermined. Eleanor's takeaway shouldn't be that Zak can do anything he wants if he believes. It should be that we can set reasonable goals that can be worked through together. I mean, the issue that everyone has in their head is that we are all aware that showing up at a wrestling school from an old VHS tape without doing any Googling is a road trip to disappointment. It's an absolute moment of disbelief that the Salt Water Redneck was willing to play along.
In the course of the film, I realize that the biggest problem with this movie is taking shortcuts towards everything. The easy answer is to just continue with the journey and for characters to forget their motivations. Similarly, plot points just happen. There's no logic. The bad guys somehow become expert trackers. They just show up to the house they are staying without rhyme or reason. Remember, the bad guys are...fishermen. Similarly, Eleanor just...finds them. She's one lady who has no idea what path they are using to get there. She keeps stumbling onto their trail, despite the fact that the odds are completely against her. It's stuff like this that competes against the emotional resonance of the film. Emotionally and tonally, perfect. You did it. You fed a kid with Down Syndrome booze and we all got mushy. But it seems like low-hanging fruit. The conceit sells it all, not the storytelling. So the movie gives all the feels, but I wish it just took it to the next level.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.