PEANUT BUTTER FALCON. What I tend to think of as healthy skepticism is probably more likely pathological or diagnosable on some sort of spectrum — not particularly healthy, if I'm being honest. And even after a delightful summer of traveling and the passing of time (seeing remarkably few movies, actually), I felt compelled to freight The Peanut Butter Falcon with the fullness of my innate, reactionary cynicism. Even now, I am defensively inclined to stand behind at least my initial reaction based on the briefest of sketches of what the movie might have been. Which, of course, is a little independent drama wherein a bunch of Los Angeles industry wannabes set out into the countryside to show the rest of us how much more in touch they are with the stuff (and people) of Real American Life than we are, meanwhile making a splash with their debut feature. It's an old formula and one I've usually found repellent. Added to this particular mix is a lead actor (Zack Gottsagen) with Down Syndrome, which initially made me concerned somebody — either Gottsagen or the audience or both — might be exploited. And then there is Shia LaBeouf, who I've never found especially compelling onscreen and whose postured earnestness and insistence on proving his dedication to The Craft — auditioning for Lars Von Trier via sex tape, having his teeth removed for Fury (2014) — more often than not overshadow the work they are ostensibly in service of.
So given just enough information to be a danger to myself and others, I had all but made up my mind about the thing long before the lights dimmed. I may be a skeptic or a cynic or both, but I'll also rush to admit my own wrongdoing: I was off by about 180 degrees with this one. Don't judge a book, etc.
What I had presumed would be contrived, precious or cloying turns out to be honest, open-hearted and refreshingly unassuming. It's a lesson in being open to the experiences and adventures of the wide open world, both for the characters inside the story and for those of us outside looking in.
Zak (Gottsagen) dreams of being a wrestler. He watches a VHS of his favorite, the SaltWater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church) on a nearly continuous loop, subjecting his curmudgeonly roommate Carl (Bruce Dern) to the highlights. Young Zak, having become a ward of the state in the absence of family, has been residing for two years in a retirement home against his will. Staffer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) has taken him under her wing but his repeated escape attempts don't make her job easy. Especially the attempt, abetted by Carl, that finally succeeds.
Alone on foot with no supplies save the pair of briefs he's wearing, Zak eventually crosses paths with Tyler (LaBeouf), a wayward soul of a different stripe: a fisherman without a license, a boy silently mourning his brother (Jon Bernthal, seen only in wordless flashbacks), a magnet for trouble who can't leave well enough alone. He's pursued by Duncan (John Hawkes) and Ratboy (Yelawolf), a couple of shady characters who aren't exactly wrong to be mad at him.
So begins an adventure in friendship through the Outer Banks of North Carolina, very much in the style of Mark Twain (to which Tyler himself alludes). Tyler, planning an escape to Florida, reluctantly agrees to help Zak make his way to the SaltWater Redneck's wrestling school. Eleanor, assigned to track down her charge so her inept boss can avoid reporting his escape to the state, eventually catches up with the unlikely duo, humoring them in their quixotic quest and gradually coming to understand and join in the familial bond they have formed.
Somehow, all of this comes off with such authenticity and humor that The Peanut Butter Falcon never feels after-school-special preachy, maudlin or mawkish. It doesn't presuppose or condescend, either, to its characters or its audience, but instead feels wide open, dedicated to the good and faithful telling of a story. It feels lived-in in the best way, with all of the cast giving deceptively easy, natural performances with not a note out of place. The construction and style of the thing, like the acting, are designed to both shore-up and stay out of the way of the story; we rarely see the hand of the creators and in this case it is the perfect approach.
It's possible that the movie's defiance of my misconceived expectations enlarges its impact. I don't really care. The Peanut Butter Falcon made me laugh and it made me cry and it made my day. PG13. 95M. BROADWAY
— John J. Bennett
*Due to the Labor Day holiday, updated listings were not available at press time for Fortuna. See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
HONEYLAND. A documentary about a beehunter in rural Europe and the visiting itinerant beekeepers whose methods conflict with hers. 90M. NR. MINOR.
IT CHAPTER TWO. The Losers Club is all grown up and their childhood terrors return via everyone's favorite monstrous clown (Bill Skarsgård). Starring Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. R. 169M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS. (2003). The extended edition is nearly four hours so bring an extra cushion and some lembas bread for the journey, folks. R. 235M. BROADWAY.
47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED. More sharks, I guess? And no cages? PG13. 89M. FORTUNA.
ANGEL HAS FALLEN. Gerard Butler reprises his endless role as the president's (Morgan Freeman) bodyguard, this time framed by baddies. R. 121M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2. More birds vs. pigs with Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Jones and Josh Gad. FORTUNA.
DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME. Documentary about the legendary musician. R. 95M. MINOR.
DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD. Teen Dora (Isabela Moner) goes exploring to save her folks. With Danny Trejo and Benicio Del Toro. PG102M. FORTUNA.
ECHO IN THE CANYON. Andrew Slater's documentary on the Laurel Canyon music scene in Los Angeles. PG13. 182M. MINIPLEX.
THE FAREWELL. Lulu Wang's beautiful, understated drama about a Chinese family's decision to lie to their matriarch (Shuzhen Zhao) about her terminal cancer. With excellent performances by Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhao and Tzi Ma. PG. 98M. MINOR.
FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS AND SHAW. A Fast and the Furious spin-off with an unlikely alliance. Is it OK for me to root for the bad guy (Idris Elba) in this one? PG13. 134M. BROADWAY.
GOOD BOYS. A raunchy, funny, surprisingly gentle coming-of-age movie about a trio of pre-teen besties trying to get to a party while beset by angry teen girls. Jacob Trembley, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon. R. 89M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE LION KING. An impressive CG remake with a star-studded cast, but all the technical achievements and orchestrated moments lack a little life. Starring Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Beyoncé (please don't tell her we didn't love it). PG. 118M. BROADWAY.
MAIDEN. True-story drama about the first all-female crew in an around-the-world sailing race. PG. 97M. MINOR.
ONCE UPON A TIME ... IN HOLLYWOOD. Quentin Tarantino's bloody drama about a washed up actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), his stuntman (Brad Pitt) and the murder of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). R. 165M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
OVERCOMER. Alex Kendrick writes, stars and directs the prayer-driven, cross-country movie you've been waiting for. PG. 119M. BROADWAY.
READY OR NOT. A new bride (Samara Weaving) is hunted by her vicious, uber-wealthy in-laws as part of a ritualistic game of hide and seek in this fun, gory nail-biter with the darkest sense of humor. R. 95M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. André Øvredal's adaptation of the kids' horror collections is entertaining slumber-party stuff. Starring Zoe Margaret Colletti and Michael Garza. PG13. 108M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME EXTENDED EDITION. The extra footage better include Spidey escaping Sony. Starring Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhall and Samuel L. Jackson. PG13. FORTUNA.
TOY STORY 4. Give us the Duke Caboom spin-off we deserve. G. 100M. FORTUNA.
— Iridian Casarez and Jennifer Fumiko Cahil