It always feels good when local talent rises to the top. For Outer Banks native and former Colington resident Tyler Nilson that rise to the top may be more like a shooting star. Nilson co-wrote and co-directed Peanut Butter Falcon with Michael Schwartz who he had earlier worked with on Moped Diaries, a 20 minute short filmed on the Outer Banks.
Stripping out local pride and boosterism, Peanut Butter Falcon is a wonderful film and one worth seeing. It is a heartwarming story of love, family and the human spirit.
Although filmed in Georgia, the movie is filled with references to the Outer Banks, a personal decision by Nilson that was important to him.
“It is an Outer Banks film…If you’re out there on the Outer Banks, this is your movie,” he said in an August radio interview when the film debuted locally. “We made this to show this community off in a way that’s beautiful, and dare I say, ‘poetic’ in its own unique way…I think it’s a bit of a love poem to this community, for me.”
The story centers on Zak, played by Zack Gottsagen, and his personal journey in search of his hero, wrestler Salt Water Redneck. Zak, a Down Syndrome young man, is a ward of the state and is housed in a senior living facility. The facility’s name is Britthayven—one of the many references to Outer Banks places.
He yearns to be free and has a willing accomplice in his roommate, Bruce Dern, who plays a curmudgeon to perfection. After his latest escape attempt, bars are placed on the window in Zak’s room, but the bars are no barrier. A little bit of soap spread over Zak’s body and he squirts to freedom wearing nothing but his underwear.
Tyler (Shia LaBoeuf) and Zak’s journeys collide, and a wonderful story emerges as the two forms first a friendship and then become the family that both have lost.
Dakota Johnson, Zak’s caretaker at Britthayven, is under orders to find him and bring him back.
The hunt for Zak and Tyler is a backdrop, though, to the emerging friendship—even love—that grows between the two. What makes the movie and the friendship particularly powerful is the story never minimizes the pain they have experienced in their lives, but never allows that pain to become the focus.
The movie has elements of Huckleberry Finn in it—Dakota Johnson even references Mark Twain at one point. Part of the journey to find Salt Water Redneck is on a raft—shades of Huck Finn and Jim. But there is so much different from what is one of the great American novels that it at most borrows bits and pieces from the story, but creates its own voyage of discovery.
This type of movie does not get made too often anymore. It is unabashedly a feel-good movie. Unlike many movies in the style, however, there is real substance to it brought to life by nuanced and powerful performances.
Is it the best movie of the year? Who knows. That’s a very objective judgment. Is it a movie worth seeing? Absolutely.