Review: Endearing 'Palmer' preaches solid, if manipulative, message
Courtesy of Apple TV+
Call me a sucker, but I was roped into the hokey, warm-hearted message of what Fisher Steven’s “Palmer” was preaching. Mega superstar Justin Timberlake - headlining his first feature in quite some time - feels right at home and though Cherly Guerriero’s screenplay radiates with a “Varsity Blues” meets “Gifted” attitude, there’s plenty to embrace including an important take on toxic masculinity.
Timberlake plays Eddie Palmer, a burned out football star who in high school was the celebrity of his conservative backwoods town where church and Friday night lights are life. Sent to LSU on full scholarship, Eddie got caught in the wrong crowd and was sent to prison for attempted murder and now he’s back home - ten years later - with his grandmother (an always welcome June Squibb) trying to start over. Everywhere he goes, his past haunts him and he can’t even go to Sunday service without the local Sheriff saying: “You best stay out of trouble, I don’t want to lock you up again” - because that’s what people in small towns say.
Eddie struggles to land a job bagging groceries but he lucks out when his alma mater is looking for a janitor and despite his record lands the gig. (Not sure if anyone could work for a school with an extensive criminal background, but that’s just me). Either way, things are headed in a positive direction when tragedy strikes and he ends up looking after Sam (Ryder Allen), a flamboyant little boy who loves princesses, playing with dolls, hosting tea parties, and whose drug addicted mom (Juno Temple) has skipped town. You can imagine the type of reception Palmer gives the kid at first: “You’re a boy” and “Boy’s don’t play with dolls” but that never deflects Sam from being who he is, and honestly that’s the type of energy 2021 needs.
It won’t take a rocket scientist to determine how quickly Palmer and Sam bond with each other, considering they're both outcasts in a town that wouldn’t lose sleep over sending the young boy to a conversion camp or worse. Of course, there’s an obligatory love story between Palmer and Sam’s attractive teacher Miss Hayes (Alisha Wainwright) that has a sweetness despite its clichéd foundation.
To their credit, Timberlake and Allen - who until this point hasn’t acted in a feature film - make quite the winning pair. They share honest interactions with the mutual trust paving way for solid chemistry. Actor/director Fisher Stevens certainly leans into the tearjerking and stereotypical aspects of the screenplay, including an impassioned court hearing where Palmer tries to gain custody of young Sam, there’s enough goodwill among the main characters, you’ll be rooting for them regardless of cheesiness.
Considering we’re still in lockdown mode, my reaction to “Palmer'' might have been muted, but it worked for me and if it propels a message of combating toxic masculinity into the mainstream, all the better. The best scene is when Sam desperately wants to write a letter to his favorite princess television show and join their secret society fan club. Palmer asks him: “Do you see any boys on that show?” to which Sam replies: “No, but I could be the first!”
PALMER debuts on Apple TV+ Friday, January 29th.