Justin Timberlake's natural southern charm elevates the formulaic Palmer
Justin Timberlake returns to live-action feature films for the first time in three years in Apple TV+’s Palmer. Directed by actor Fisher Stevens and written by Cheryl Guerriero, the film tells the story of Eddie Palmer (Timberlake), an ex-football star recently released from prison. Upon returning home Palmer, as he likes to be called, moves in with his grandmother Vivian (June Squibb) and naturally goes through the hurdles that most ex-convicts do as they attempt to readjust to society.
The obstacles Palmer has to overcome include finding a job and avoiding the whispers of judgmental townspeople. Sam (Ryder Allen), a jubilant little boy lives next door to Palmer with his drug-addicted mother Shelly (Juno Temple) and her abusive boyfriend Jerry (Dean Winters). When Shelly and Jerry decide to take an unannounced vacation, Sam is left in the care of Palmer and his grandmother. While caring for Sam, Palmer strikes up an unexpected friendship with the lad, as he attempts to better himself as a man.
After releasing the mediocre Man of the Woods album in 2018, Timberlake briefly redeemed himself with the soundtrack to Trolls World Tour from a music standpoint. In terms of acting, Timberlake’s last two performances, his voice work in Trolls World Tour, and a lead role in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel were misses for me as well. While the trailer for Palmer piqued my interest, I did have some skepticism, giving Timberlake’s work of recent. Thankfully with Palmer, the musician gives his best performance since The Social Network.
Palmer’s strength rests on Justin’s performance and he uses natural charisma to elevate the material. One of the first things I noticed about Cheryl Guerriero’s script is she doesn’t make any excuses for Palmer. The character acknowledges his mistakes and never responds with negativity when faced with a challenge. While Timberlake doesn’t deliver an award-worthy performance, it was refreshing to see the actor challenge himself. Furthermore, Cheryl Guerriero’s script does take a predictable route to set up a dynamic duo living situation for Palmer & Sam, it does work.
In the role of Sam, Ryder Allen makes a wonderful debut. Allen brings a likable approach to the role of an eight-year-old who sees the world in a certain way. This includes a love of dolls, watching Princess shows, and wearing make-up. The handling of his character though never attempts to push an agenda. For me, it was more about self-acceptance and just letting kids live their best life as they discover who they are. Allen has a great screen presence and he’s one to watch in the future.
Primarily Palmer belongs to Timberlake and Allen, as it’s about their friendship, but there is also some solid supporting work as well. Juno Temple and June Squibb are both good in their limited roles and have moments to shine. I also enjoyed seeing Allisha Wainwright who portrays Maggie, Sam’s teacher, and Palmer’s love interest. Guerriero’s script gives her just enough gusto and she has a great moment where she subtly stands up from Sam.
Fisher Steven’s direction of the film was also good. Stevens builds up the relationship between Palmer & Sam slowly and allows us to go on the same journey with the characters. I did have one gripe with the film and it’s with the ending. Without going into spoilers, I will say that a few lines of dialogue or a montage would’ve strengthened the emotional punch the film was going for. In essence, Palmer’s resolution may come off a little too easy for some viewers.
Nevertheless, Palmer is worth viewing not only for fans of Timberlake but those who enjoy buddy dramas. With a strong message about self-acceptance, strong acting, combined with great chemistry from Timberlake and his young co-star, Palmer is worth a one-time stream.
Final Grade B
Palmer is available to stream on Apple TV+ on January 29th