January 26th, 2021




The obstacle for a movie like Palmer is making this type of narrative entertaining. Is it something I would recommend? Yes, but will it be something that you love? Or excite you? That’s not likely. It’s a nice message about redemption, and two people finding comfort in one another, with solid performances, and a good spirit. Outside of all that, there’s not much else to it. For some, that will be enough, for others they might wish they had watched another episode of Schitt’s Creek. Fisher Stevens directs with a gentle touch, telling the story of Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake), an ex-convict, making his way back home to Louisiana for a new start, to live with his grandmother (June Squibb), and befriends a young boy named Sam (Ryder Allen) who is bullied for being who he is. The two become a support for one another, trying to survive the cruel world, and moving on from past mistakes. Palmer wears its heart on its sleeve, telling a slow story of friendship, although predictable, it won’t wow, but it might inspire.

In the opening shot, Palmer is riding the bus on his way back home, staring out the window, and approaching the world he once knew as a high school football star. It’s easy to see that Stevens isn’t interested in dissecting the low-income town we enter, but dissecting the characters in the narrative. Written by Cheryl Guerriero, this isn’t the pretentious poor white America porn that Hillbilly Elegy was, but instead an exercise in walking in the shoes of others. That nearly works here, with Palmer trepidatious to his new environment, but welcomed home by grandma Vivian (Squibb). The rules are simple: go to church, help around the house, and find a job. The job arrives quickly as a janitor for the local school, old friends gather at the watering hole, but Palmer wants to keep his head down. The neighbors are resident addict Shelly (Juno Temple), her abusive husband (Dean Winters), and son Sam, a kid that is obviously gender fluid, a boy that likes a fairy princess show and having tea time playdates. This makes Sam the “odd one” in a small minded town. That isolation is something Palmer relates to and when Shelly goes on a bender, missing for months, Palmer is thrown into the paternal role he never knew he had in him.

What follows after is a mixture of pros and cons. The performance from Justin Timberlake is good. The Social Network star does the heavy lifting, playing the character straight, but will also catch flack from the accent police because his Southern drawl seems to come and go. Either way, he does balance the emotional and callaced moments for Palmer to shine. The role is a risk and Timberlake comes out on top. Later, Grandma leaves us, placing Palmer as the sole watcher of the child. Sam’s teacher Maggie (Alisha Wainwright) helps where she can and becomes the love interest of Palmer. Wainwright and Timberlake have a nice chemistry. The narrative eventually shifts to Palmer seeking custody of Sam from the absent mother. It’s here where Palmer veers into the predictable and melodramatic. Timberlake rises up in his emotions but the narrative becomes so gooey with cheese it may as well have been made by a cow.

The direction from Stevens is an exercise in pointing and shooting. The cinematography, set design, and costume look reused from other films. There’s not much style to Palmer, but a consistent mystery to the reason why the title character was put in jail for 10-years. The narrative drops nuggets to suggest what the hero did to land himself behind bars, including a few scuffles with local drunks, revealing a darker side that he’s trying to suppress. When that is finally revealed it’s already clear as crystal and Palmer becomes more of a focus on how difficult it is to get a child out of a toxic environment. If the narrative focus was on the machinations of child protective services or how communities can learn to accept children that are different, that might have been more interesting. Instead Palmer becomes a pedestrian exercise in drama.

This is what makes a movie like Palmer frustrating. It’s intentions are good and everyone involved has the talent to put a movie together, including Timberlake, who seems to be stepping outside his comfort zones. And yet, I left feeling little different than when I started watching. I appreciate a movie making an attempt to promote acceptance for children that will deal with the bullies of the world or a story about people finding redemption after the mistakes they’ve made. Palmer shoots for all of that and barely clears the mark. Think of it in terms of music. Timberlake seems to be singing the right tune, but Palmer isn’t going to be a hit.



Written by: Leo Brady

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