A few weeks ago, I had the chance to watch a movie that touched my heart in a way that is hard to describe.
Titled “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” the movie is a classic adventure tale worth of Mark Twain about a down-on-his-luck fisherman (Shia LeBeouf) and a young man who escaped a nursing home to follow his dream of becoming a pro wrestler.
Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whiskey, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a kind nursing home employee charged with Zak’s return, to join them on their journey.
(Click here to watch a sweet interview with the trio)
Nilson and Schwartz (whose previous credits include short docs about Alex Honnold, the subject of Free Solo) met their leading man at a camp for disabled actors.
Gottsagen studied performing arts in high school and worked as an usher at a theater. His dream was to be a movie star, but having down syndrome, his friends knew the statistics of that happening were low.
“I could see that he had a unique skill set,” said Nilson. “He’s a really good actor. About five years ago, my writing and directing partner Mike Schwartz and I decided that this was the right time, and we sat down to create a role that would showcase his abilities.”
Schwartz and Nilson decided to create a modern-day fable about two strangers who make their way down isolated waterways and back roads and find an unexpected bond that changes both their lives. “The setting allowed us to explore some great characters for Zack to play off of,” Schwartz said.
Gottsagen plays Zak, a young man who has been warehoused in a facility for seniors because of a lack of better alternatives.
Passionate about professional wrestling, he watches decades-old matches over and over on VHS. His all-time hero is the Salt Water Redneck, whose North Carolina wrestling school is advertised endlessly on the tapes.
With the help of his elderly roommate, Zak makes a midnight run to freedom. He plans to track down his idol and attend the Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school.
Honestly, a person with or without down syndrome could have played the leading role in this movie, and it would have still been fantastic.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” challenged so many of my preconceived thoughts on what the main character of a movie should be or look like. Or why people like Gottsagen need to be in starring roles.
I just about started crying when a young lady with down syndrome stood up during a Q&A after the early preview and proclaimed that the movie made her feel empowered.
Honestly, this movie is about so much more than empowering those with disabilities. It is a story of true friendship. It is a story about the battles life throws us and how we can overcome it. It is a lesson on how to treat others.
It is an excellent movie.
It’s a movie everyone should see.
The coming-of-age storyline was so heartfelt that it stands its ground compared to any big box office hit.
Because of that, I encourage you to see this movie when it opens this week. It will be playing at the Angelika at Mockingbird Station and will make it to other theaters if it does well during its opening.
The movie officially opens Friday, Aug. 9, but there are two showings Thursday night.