PALMER (APPLE TV+) (2021)
SYNOPSIS: After 12 years in prison, former high school football star Eddie Palmer returns home to put his life back together—and forms an unlikely bond with Sam, an outcast boy from a troubled home. But Eddie's past threatens to ruin his new life and family.
Justin Timberlake is one of the few artistes in Hollywood that can juggle between a music and movie career. Madonna certainly has her days in the eighties but she is never a welcome onscreen presence in the eyes of critics. Timberlake on the other hand has The Social Network, Inside Llewyn Davis and Trolls on his resume to thank for. After a brief hiatus to plug his music talent, Timberlake is back to impress in the Apple+ original movie, Palmer.
Eddie Palmer (Timberlake) is a former high school football star that has just gotten out of jail after serving over a decade for attempted murder. He returned to his hometown and stayed with his grandmother, Vivan (June Squibb) while he tries to look for a job. On the lawn outside their house is a trailer where a drug addict, Shelly (Juno Temple) and her son, Sam (Ryder Allen) lives. When Shelly disappears one day, Sam came to stay with Vivian and Palmer forging a long-term, problematic relationship in the days to come.
The core of the drama lies in the relationship between Palmer and Sam. While Palmer didn’t really like Sam from the start because of his queer ways, he sort of slowly turned himself into a surrogate father figure. Sam being a boy loves to play dress up, watches Princesses cartoon, indulges in tea parties with his best friend resulting him being bullied in class. Even if Palmer attempts to change Sam’s gender nonconforming ways, he is largely left to what he likes and loves in the end.
Where the plotting is concerned, the only challenging part is Sam’s character. It’s an issue that is in existence forever but not one that is commonly told in a commercial flick. Director Fisher Stevens and writer Cheryl Guerriero takes good care to portray Sam as believable and identifiable though without resorting to propaganda. It’s a well-told message that such issues exist in current society. Why deny and hide if the issue is real?
The rest of the story however is a little predictable. An ex-con trying to find his life back but encounter naysayers at every corner. We have seen that a thousand times onscreen. But Palmer succeeds mainly the journey for Palmer to redeem himself is surprisingly heart-felt and honest. Despite not taking any calculated risks or unnecessary subplots beside an expected confrontational with rugged friends, the drama feels remarkably real although it does gets a bit bogged down by a courtroom drama and police procedural caused by Sam’s irresponsible mother in the third act.
There’s enough chemistry between Timberlake and his young co-star to make things worked. Ryder Allen is a refreshing young actor to watch out for and Timberlake for the best part puts in a nuanced, likeable and scene-stealing performance. Alisha Wainwright stars as the love interest and also Sam’s teacher while English actress Juno Temple does her best to portray a messed-up junkie.
Palmer though formulaic features strong acting especially from Timberlake. It’s definitely his showcase of the year. Do go for this if you have the chance as it’s not very likely we are going to see a well-made intimate drama on the big screen anytime soon.
Review by Linus Tee