The Peanut Butter Falcon ★★★½

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest and then a professor who left behind his high-paying academic career to live at L'Arche Daybreak, a community in Toronto where people with and without disabilities live together and support one another. He said this of the community:

"Where there is reason for gratitude, there can always be found a reason for bitterness. It is here that we are faced with the freedom to make a decision. We can decide to be grateful or to be bitter. We can decide to recognize our chosenness [by God] in the moment or we can decide to focus on the shadow side. When we persist in looking at the shadow side, we will eventually end up in the dark. I see this every day in our community [L'Arche Daybreak]. The core members, the men and women with mental disabilities, have many reasons to be bitter. Many of them experience deep loneliness, rejection from family members or friends, the unfulfilled desire to have a partner in life, and the constant frustration of always needing assistance. Still, they choose mostly not to be bitter, but grateful for the many small gifts of their lives — for an invitation to dinner, for a few days of retreat or a birthday celebration and, most of all, for their daily life in community with people who offer friendship and support. They choose gratitude over bitterness and they become a great source of hope and inspiration for all their assistants who, although not mentally disabled, also have to make that same choice. When we keep claiming the light, we will find ourselves becoming more and more radiant. What fascinates me so much is that every time we decide to be grateful it will be easier to see new things to be grateful for. Gratitude begets gratitude, just as love begets love."

Nouwen realized something that The Peanut Butter Falcon captures so beautifully on-screen. Though disabled people may not do everything we consider valuable in life, they have an elemental ability to choose gratitude over bitterness. After spending any amount of time with a person like this, we realize that "everything we consider valuable in life" was never as valuable at all as the gratitude we could have been cultivating all along.

The Peanut Butter Falcon gives us a story of simple joy and childlike (but not for that reason lesser) dreams. Directors Nilson and Schwartz maintain a loose grasp on the narrative, its pacing and framing and realism and cinematography. (Loseness of Form is one of my key criteria for appreciating a movie. The looser the better.) This gave the script a breathing room I wasn't expecting for the usual feel-good hokey friendship adventure plot. Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen both gave quality performances. There is some predictability and a few cliche moments but not enough to really matter. I had so much fun experiencing this movie, and would recommend it to any for its deep gratitude for life and its joy.

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