“The Peanut Butter Falcon” & “Ad Astra”- Dual Review

This week you’re getting two in one! It’s been a slow two weeks in regard to new releases, so I decided to use that window to check out two films that lay on opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum.  

The first is The Peanut Butter Falcon, a dramedy from writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Swartz. The film stars newcomer Zack Gottsagen as Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome who is stuck living in a retirement home in North Carolina. He dreams of becoming a wrestler, and spends his days watching videos of his hero- a pro wrestler by the name of SaltWater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church)- on endless repeat. One night, he decides enough is enough. He escapes the nursing home and embarks on a quest to find Salt Water Redneck and make his dreams come true. Along the way he comes across Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a fisherman thief on the run from his troubled past, who accompanies him on his journey.

With big films like Spider-Man: Far From Home, Downton Abbey, IT Chapter Two and Rambo dominating the screens, it’s easy for The Peanut Butter Falcon to get lost in the shuffle. It’s a simple movie. Nothing about its story, its performances or how its crafted is particularly grand or mainstream. But that’s a big part of its charm. It’s a good-natured buddy road trip movie that feels genuine in spirit yet grounded in its approach.

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The relationship between Zak and Tyler is what anchors the film. Gottsagen and LaBeouf have excellent chemistry with one another, and the bond their characters share is the heart and soul of the movie. Dakota Johnson gives an equally good performance, as does the rest of the supporting cast. Some critics have said that her role as LaBeouf’s love interest seemed forced, but I’ll disagree. Their interactions aren’t as strong as LaBeouf’s and Gottsagen’s, though the comradery among the three of them works extremely well.

Certain aspects of the plot are cheesy and predictable for sure- mainly surrounding the villain characters who are chasing down LaBeouf and a fake out tease at the end- but the film has such a big heart that it overshadows the minute flaws. Overall The Peanut Butter Falcon is a sweet, heartfelt movie that deserves your attention. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s well-made, and it’s sure to leave you with positive vibes, which is definitely something we could us more of these days.

At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got Ad Astra, a cerebral sci-fi adventure directed by James Gray. Set in the not-so-distant future, the film tells the story of Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), an emotionally reserved astronaut who learns that his famous thought-to-be-dead father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), also an astronaut, may still be alive. The Earth is being struck by a series of devastating surges, and the blasts seem to be coming from an area off the coast of Neptune- the same place where Clifford and his expedition went missing years ago. With the fate of humankind on his shoulders and determined to find his father, Roy sets out on a long, strenuous journey through the solar system to uncover the truth.

I wasn’t sure what to expect walking into Ad Astra. I had only seen the trailer once a while back, and all I remembered was four simple words: Brad Pitt in space. That sentence alone was enough to get me intrigued. All the movie had to do was deliver, and in some respects, it does just that.ad-astra-movie-2For starters, it’s a visually striking film. There aren’t enough words in the english dictionary to describe how beautiful the cinematography is. The filmmakers paint an immersive portrait of outer space. The vastness and eerie silence of it is captured so well. You feel like you’re there, isolated and stuck floating aimlessly within that environment. The film’s tense, taught atmosphere mirrors that of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Similar to 2001, the slow-burn pacing accentuates the film’s overall effectiveness, allowing you to relish in the cinematography and feeling of isolation. True, the slowness can feel unbearable sometimes, so you’ll have to be willing to push through it to get to the good parts. 

Brad Pitt gives a solid performance as Roy McBride. He doesn’t get to display a lot of range due to the character’s calm and reserved nature, though he delivers nonetheless. The true standout in my opinion is Tommy Lee Jones as his father. Everything surrounding his character is genuinely disturbing, and Jones’s subtle portrayal of a once sensible man gone mad leaves is truly compelling. And it’s these performances and the striking visual quality which breathes life into Ad Astra. The story isn’t the most fascinating, but its biggest strength lies in how that story is told. If you don’t mind the slow journey, you’ll fare with the movie just fine.

 

Cosmic Grades:

The Peanut Butter Falcon– 3.8/5 Stars

Ad Astra- 3.7/5 Stars

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