This is not a movie review. I’m not a movie reviewer. You can read reviews here. Instead, this is my account as the mom of a teenage boy and actor with Down syndrome of my take-aways after seeing the film The Peanut Butter Falcon.
The movie stars Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome. My #1 take-away from the movie was rather selfishly: Maybe there will one day be a role for Aaron. He has been signed with an excellent talent agent, but he has only had two auditions since March. The fact is that his agent is working hard to get him auditions for teenage boy roles. Casting directors and producers need to be open to Aaron attending casting calls for typical roles. There aren’t that many Down syndrome roles out there – although he did try out for – but didn’t get – the role for the Down syndrome character on Stumptown.
I hope The Peanut Butter Falcon helps crack open film and television opportunities for my son and other disabled actors, who are working hard to hone their craft.
My #2 take-away was: I need to stop babying Aaron. He’s 16. He often yells at me: I am independent! I still hover and micro-manage him too much. The problem is that I did this with my other two kids when they were teenagers. I can’t tell how much I’m doing this because Aaron has Down syndrome and how much of it is the regular nagging of teenager children (to take out the garbage, wash their hair, go to bed, etc). Maybe I should be a less naggy mom overall. Hmmm.
There were two scenes in The Peanut Butter Falcon that stuck with me. One was where Zak’s caregiver Eleanor was helping put on his t-shirt. His new friend, Tyler, points out that Zak can put on his own shirt. I’m Eleanor in that scene.
In another scene, Tyler tells Eleanor that even though she doesn’t use the ‘R’ word (I can’t even type it out – I trust you know what I mean), she still treats Zak as if he’s ‘R’. That one stung and hit close to home.
As Anne Lamott says, I think I can take my sticky fingers off the steering wheel now. Aaron can make his own way – if only I let him.
I felt so tender towards the actor in the film, recognizing the elements he has in common with my own son: his body build, sloping shoulders, handsome face, the occasional stuttering when his brain is working faster than his mouth. And the PARTY attitude. Aaron has that too.
There were many elements of cruelty inflicted on Zak – first by being being abandoned by his family, institutionalized in a nursing home, being called the ‘R’ word. It reminded me that cruelty is part of Aaron’s life too. While I know of no overt bullying that has occurred at high school, I’m sure Aaron has suffered cruelties at school. He was bullied in his early elementary years, by one boy in particular, so much so that we moved homes and switched schools.
The kids mostly ignore him at high school. I think other teenagers simply don’t have time for him and lack an understanding of and patience for disabled people. This saddens me.
The Peanut Butter Falcon had many reflections of real life – both the good and the bad – and I think that’s what makes a great movie. I can tell that writers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz are friends with actor Zach Gottsagen. This movie is deeply respectful of people who have Down syndrome. I tip my hat to them all.
Finally, do I think Zach Gottsagen should get an Oscar nomination for his performance? Hell ya, yes I do.