Hey! Hallie here!
This isn’t usually the type of thing I talk about on this blog, but I recently stumbled across this movie and it blew me away. It’s such a satisfying watch and it’s colorful and whimsical appearance makes it transportive. Its characters are surprisingly heartfelt. The plot is simple but complex. It’s not unrealistic or fantastical, but it also feels like a nice escape from everyday life. Ending the movie genuinely felt like leaving behind a good friend. That’s not the type of movie I expected going in. Especially because of the presence of Shia LaBeouf. But this movie succeeds in both surprising its audience and giving us some good representation that we don’t usually see. There’s so many things I want to talk about, both involving the production of this movie and the plot itself, so let’s get going!
Then film stars Zack Gottsagen as Zac, a man with Down syndrome who has been placed in a nursing home by his state because of a lack of resources and his own lack of family. I saw a lot of people expressing disbelief that this would be allowed, even some who looked down on this movie for this opening premise, but many of those in the disabled community would argue that point. Most places don’t focus enough on money and resources to properly care for those in the community and this movie is honest about that. In any case, Zac isn’t without friends in the nursing home. He befriends a woman named Eleanor, played by Dakota Johnson, who is responsible for caring for him, as well as a few of the elderly in the facility. Zac’s dream is to become a wrestler, like Salt Water Redneck whom he watches everyday, and he feels rightfully stifled by the nursing home. So one night his roommate manages to help him bend back the bars in his window and he runs away from the facility. He aims to go to the wrestling school advertised in the Salt Water Redneck video he’s been watching, but he doesn’t really know much about how to get there. His wandering leads him to hide under the tarp of a boat owned by Tyler, played by Shia LaBeouf, who’s a crab fisherman currently in a brutal disagreement with a man named Duncan. Meanwhile, Eleanor becomes concerned over Zac’s disappearance and goes searching for him. Tyler and Zac decide to head to Florida, where the school supposedly is, together. In the meantime they overcome various deadly circumstances, get the lumber to make a raft from a blind preacher, and create a strong bond that holds the entire film together. After a while Eleanor catches up to them and Tyler convinces her to come along as well. As for the ending, I don’t want to get into spoilers here. This is an Indie movie and I’m not expecting everyone to have seen it. But I would very much recommend watching this for yourself.
We don’t get a lot of disabled representation in media. When we do it feels like we mostly get insults like Sia’s project, which have able-bodied actors playing the part of disabled characters while demonstrating a horrible lack of understanding for the people meant to be portrayed. This movie takes a few much better steps forward. The movie doesn’t treat Zac like a crazy abnormality, which happens far too often, but a human being with his own interests, dreams, and means of acquiring the things he desires. His relationship with Tyler becomes even stronger when the movie shows us that Tyler views Zac in this way as well, forging a mutual friendship brought by understanding and hardships faced together. However, this movie does show us that even those who appear kind must still make an effort to educate themselves. Eleanor is the character the movie does this through, who has to spend more time with Tyler and Zac to fully appreciate who Zac truly is. Through all of this, Zack Gottsagen proves that there’s no excuse for casting those who aren’t disabled in disabled roles. He’s an incredible actor who gives such a natural performance, you feel as though Zac’s story must be a true one. All of this representation feels like it should be the bare minimum, but unfortunately it’s all things we barely ever see in Hollywood.
Behind the Scenes:
This movie had some difficulties behind the scenes. Getting a movie with a disabled lead made was a difficult task. Especially because directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz had little to no industry connections when they decided to move forward with the idea of a film starring Zack Gottsagen. It took a lot of time and a lot of rejection for them to even get a concept video together to send to Shia LaBeouf. Fortunately, LaBeouf was interested in both working with Zack Gottsagen and the unique idea. However, given his darker past there was already another layer of difficulty to getting this movie made. Gottsagen’s mother even pulled LaBeouf aside for a serious discussion before filming began. Shia LaBeouf made the wise decision to use his time working on the film to get close to his costar, resulting in a lot of the more heartfelt scenes we see in the movie, but that didn’t keep him out of trouble. He was arrested during filming. He came back to set embarrassed of himself and limited his interactions with others. Gottsagen managed to get LaBeouf back on track by confronting him about endangering one of Gottsagen’s only chances at a role like this one, especially in the unforgiving conditions in Hollywood. LaBeouf promised him that he would remain sober for the rest of the shoot and he held to his promise. And then some. Shia LaBeouf entered himself into rehab earlier this year, so the effort wasn’t permanent, but the impact Gottsagen had on him was incredibly clear and it’s impossible not to pick up on it in the film. This film took so much effort from so many individuals, and I can confidently say their hard work payed off.
I’m very late to the party in praising this movie. It deserves so much more recognition than it has. Movies like this should be praised for multiple reasons. The representation in this movie is certainly praiseworthy. But so is the showcasing of two completely new directors and an actor who Hollywood refused to give a chance. In an industry where the same actors and directors get reused over and over again, it’s a breath of fresh air to see someone new come onto the scene to transport audiences to a new world. There’s so many reasons to support this film. So if you haven’t seen it, go watch it!
Don’t do anything fun until I get back!