After breaking out of an old folks home, Zak heads down the coast of North Carolina in search of his idol, aided by his new friend Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a ne’er-do-well fisherman, and pursued by his well-meaning, college-educated carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson).
Despite their differences, all three are lonely souls and, as you might anticipate, they eventually form a surrogate family.
Forty years ago, this could have been the premise for a raucous comedy destined for drive-ins, in the vein of Smokey and the Bandit. Here it’s packaged for the arthouse crowd, with a carefully curated bluegrass soundtrack, long shots that turn the characters into stick figures in a landscape and a general air of folksy preciousness.
But as calculated as the film might be, it’s hard to dislike. And while Nilson and Schwartz use Gottsagen’s sincerity as a guarantee of their own good intentions, this never feels as exploitative as it might have.
Zak is a simple guy, unable to fend for himself out in the world. But he’s also a courageous underdog, a common-sense thinker and a trickster who regularly scores off his companions, meaning the laughs are never wholly at his expense.
Nilson and Schwartz also seem fond of actors in general, allowing a whole line-up of character players to register strongly for a scene or two. Some are well-known, such as Bruce Dern as an old coot who aids Zak’s escape, others less so, such as Lee Spencer as Eleanor’s prissily obnoxious boss.
As the surly but sensitive Tyler, LaBeouf carries more emotional weight than anybody else and looks more comfortable than he ever did in his days as a juvenile lead.
Johnson has not escaped typecasting to the same degree: as in Fifty Shades of Grey or the recent remake of Suspiria, she’s basically our surrogate − an outsider ushered into an exotic subculture that somehow never threatens her innate middle-class niceness.