At Coronado Island Film Festival we’re watching a lot of movies these days, always on the lookout for something wonderful to tell you about. This week we discovered a real gem, one that’s guaranteed to make you laugh and cry and lift your weary quarantined spirits. It’s a sweet film for the whole family called “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” released last August and winning Audience Favorite Awards at nearly every summer film festival it entered. We found it on Amazon Prime for a modest rental fee.
It was conceived and written by two inexperienced first-time directors, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, with solid performances by Shia LeBoeuf (one of our favorite Hollywood badboys, perfectly cast), Dakota Johnson, and a completely endearing newcomer, Zack Gottsagen, a young man with Down Syndrome. The venerable Bruce Dern, in one of those small roles he invariably attacks with his usual crusty gusto, sets the movie’s tone in the early scenes.
Set in the picturesque Outer Banks of North Carolina, it tells the story of Zak (Gottsagen), an orphan with Down Syndrome, who ends up in a Virginia nursing home with Carl (Dern) as his roommate and Eleanor (Johnson) as his caregiver. Zak is obsessed with watching professional wrestling on TV, dreaming of one day studying with his hero, Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church), and becoming a professional wrestler. Aided by Carl, Zak escapes the nursing home and heads off alone in search of Salt Water’s wrestling school.
In the Mark Twain-style adventure that follows, Zak hooks up with an outlaw-on-the-lam named Tyler (Le Boeuf), and “The Peanut Butter Falcon” soon becomes a good old-fashioned buddy tale, driven by the budding friendship of the unlikely fugitive duo of Zak and Tyler, with painterly images of the rural byways and misty rivers of North Carolina as a backdrop.
Directors Nilson and Schwartz first met Zack Gottsagen at a summer camp for actors, some of whom were developmentally disabled. Zack let them know that his big dream was to become a movie star, and he asked them if they would make a movie and cast him in the leading role. Knowing very little at the time about how a movie was actually made, they wrote the script around Zack and persevered, learning on the job. Somehow assembling a first-rate cast of actors in the process, the result is this small, touching, beautiful film. Among its many awards and accolades was a nomination by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film, and the 2020 Newcomer Award for Zack Gottsagen from the Hollywood Critics Association.
Meantime, we hope you are all staying healthy and strong. We look forward to the time when we’ll be together again in our beloved Village Theatre, watching movies on the big screen! Until then, we optimistically move forward with plans for a very special fifth anniversary celebration of Coronado Island Film Festival, Nov. 11-15. Visit coronadofilmfest.com for pass package information and year-round festival activity updates. We will get through this!
Doug St. Denis is the founder and chairman of Coronado Island Film Festival and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org