‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ flew straight into my heart

The combination of peanut butter and fresh fish never sounded so appetizing. The men on the mixtape cover art above, star Zack Gottsagen and director Tyler Nilson, ignite The Peanut Butter Falcon, the happiest movie to feature the Carolinas (even though it was filmed in Georgia) this side of the turn of the 21st century.

The essential “buddy-comedy” comes from the gentle hands of first-time directors Nilson and Michael Schwartz, teaming up to make a movie that features a surging lighting rod in Shia LaBeouf and a newcomer who grabs the screen like a fish in Gottsagen. Throw in Thomas Haden Church playing a lovable prick (again), and Dakota Johnson injecting the warmest soft smile she can muster into every scene. Wrap it all up in the trappings of sprawling shots capturing bayous and marshlands. Sneak in a baptism and a raft-building montage into 98-minute runtime. Consider me a fan.

PB Falcon fills your heart at every turn, with LaBeouf turning in a classic (and impressively Southern-esque) “runaway bandit with a haunted past turned good-guy and role model” performance. He even wears a red “Outer Banks” hat that looks just worn enough without looking dirty. Masterful job by whoever threw that hat into the dirt and made it acutely smudged.

pb hat

In the first 15 minutes, we even get a sappy line spoken by a battered, wrinkled, plain old-looking Bruce Dern, “Friends are the family you choose,” he tells Zak (Gottsagen). Instead of avoiding clichés, Nilson and Schwartz layer them on like a cake that feels too high, feels like it’s going to topple over. Magically, it doesn’t. It stays in form, swaying in the windowed breeze.

The plot isn’t new or inventive, though. It’s just a changing of the wheel, a decorating of sorts. LaBeouf’s lines, delivered with a suppressed anger and controlled joy, are cookie-cutter and Johnson doesn’t have enough screentime, or reasonable dialogue, to go beyond her pigeonhole. The backdrop is beautiful, yet Ozark-ish, and the music, though I love a good folk song, feels too on the nose. The final 15 minutes are implausible and unrealistic, regardless of how happy it made me feel. If I let my head do all the talking, I can find the cracks in the structure, in the dialogue, and in the too-perfect nailing of tropes.

Gottsagen holds it all, and I mean all of it, together with a distinctness and unbridled individuality in what can only be called a monolithic performance. Everything he does on screen has weight. And it should, for the backstory is worth the read. Gottsagen’s own dreams are wrapped into every second of this film and every ounce of this character. He commands the screen because this is his story, and contrary to the what he’s been told in the past, he’s the one steering it.

pb small photo.jpg

The obvious, and widely mentioned, comparison is to Huck Finn, yet PB Falcon has a particularity to it. Nilson and Schwartz crafted a singular film featuring “two badasses on the run”, as Zak puts it, and two men forming a bond, albeit one we’ve seen before, in real time.  The film is singular because it’s heart is so big, so loud, and ultimately so warm.

The smiles and laughs look real. The handshake doesn’t look awkward or rehearsed. The watermelon helmets look natural. The cast swarm Zak throughout the film, constantly pursuing him. Everyone on screen and in the audience can feel that Zak (and Gottsagen) has a “good guy heart”. The friendships seem to run deeper than the runtime and as current movies go, that’s a rarity at its finest.

As LaBeouf puts it, this is just “like a Mark Twain story or something,” and that sure is a great place to be.

★★★

The ‘Good Boys’ joyride: too recognizable and too streamable

During one of the film industry’s “worst” summers at the box office, first-time director Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys stood out above the rest. It broke through the flop-machine of comedies from Seth Rogen’s other project Long Shot to Mindy Kaling’s Late Night and everything in between: movies with big names that received rave reviews, yet failed to reach the audiences they hoped to snatch up.

The budget for Good Boys was $20 million. How much it made on its opening weekend? $21 million. The almost-perfect storm of Rogen’s stamp of approval, middle school humor that grosses its viewers with both sweetness and a slew of sex jokes, and a well-made trailer signifying the end of summer led to a surprise success, a feel-good film that both critics and audiences have gushed over.

It was easy and enjoyable. The performances from the bean bag boys along with the entire supporting cast were just lovely, and the ending provided a gentleness I could feel coming yet still led to a smile on my face. The ridiculousness of the boys taking sips of beer and running through crowded highways made me laugh just enough for me to leave the theater feeling it was money well spent.

Yet 20 minutes later, I couldn’t tell you all three of the main characters names. I couldn’t recall specific lines of dialogue, or even tell you what the conflict (or the overcoming of that conflict) of the story turned out to be. I forgot it almost immediately, looking back with fondness on a memory that feels vague because of its age.

It felt like a movie from my childhood, relatable in terms of the feelings associated with seeing the film and all the now disassociated scenes and songs, but not recognizable and certainly not memorable. To me, it was a Netflix movie you decide to watch because it’s simply there, and you forget the next day because it’s not in front of you anymore.

I’ve seen Good Boys before. We all have. We’ve seen it in theaters, and we’ve certainly seen it on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Iterations of middle school boys doing dumb shit pass more frequently than we even realize. This doesn’t make it less enjoyable, nor does it make it less necessary. At this time, it might even have a larger impact in creating a ray of light on another awful news day. The originality of the bean bag boys feels a bit washed, dried, folded up, and shoved right back into the machine, and that doesn’t sit well.

good-boys

Compare this film with Booksmart for example. Both films were made with first-time directors: Stupnitsky and Olivia Wilde. Both films were released by mid-major studios: Good Universe and Annapurna. Both films are raunchy comedies focused on young friend groups having one wild day (or one wild night). Both are “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. Both films even have doses of Molly Gordon, for good reason, peppered in.

Though differing marketing campaigns and distributors should be noted, it’s a harsh comparison once you look at the box office results. Booksmart, made by a female director and showcasing a fresh (and mostly) female cast, operating on a $6 million budget, grossed a total of $23 million after 77 days in theaters. In contrast, after 22 days in theaters, Good Boys, made by several hordes of white men, has grossed $75 million and counting. I’m glad a mid-major comedy is making money. I just think it’s the wrong one.

Not all critics lauded Stupnitsky’s film, though. It was hardly enough to garner an R-rating. The 25th “FUCK” by the bean bag boys was an endless echo. The runtime was 89 minutes yet it could have been 60, maybe even a clean 30. The heralded kissing party was, somehow, underwhelming. And I’m skeptical that these boys would even be friends.

I liked Good Boys and I look forward to half-watching it on Netflix while making dinner 3 months from now.

★★