Palmer

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A former high-school football star has been in prison for 12 years. Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) is now free and returns to the small town of his youth. He manages to secure a job as a janitor at the local school. There his grandmother Vivian (June Squibb), who raised him, offers a place to stay. She’s an upstanding church-going woman. Palmer acquiesces to her demand that he attend services along with her. He must readjust to life on the outside. Vivian also frequently watches the neighbor’s kid (Ryder Allen) for extended periods. Sam is a 7-year-old boy who lives a modest life in a trailer with his drug-addicted mother (Juno Temple) and abusive boyfriend (Dean Winters). Palmer is ostensibly a rough-hewn criminal hardened by years in prison. Meanwhile, the boy prefers watching a cartoon about princesses and having tea parties. They have nothing in common. There’s no way these two are going to connect. Can you imagine what happens next?

I can foresee how certain tales will unfold from a mile away Palmer relies on predictable plot developments. However, it isn’t familiarity that can sink a film such as this. It’s artificiality and insincerity. This, on the other hand, is a heartfelt and emotionally resonant account that is assisted by its understated acting. Given that Timberlake was in the boy band NSYNC and has had a wildly successful solo singing career, it may still surprise some people to hear that he’s a talented actor. When he’s good (Alpha Dog, The Social Network, Inside Llewyn Davis) he’s very good. He wisely underplays the role as a “strong silent type.” He’s a stoic man of few words sporting a Paul Bunyan beard and flannel to visually represent a tough guy here. Initially, he snaps “You know you’re a boy, right?” upon witnessing Sam play with dolls. It isn’t long before Palmer is protecting the boy from bullies. I wasn’t surprised by the turnaround. His pretty-boy features and sweet-natured disposition shine through his gruff exterior. His change of heart should be believable and it is that.

Palmer exceeds expectations. I wasn’t expecting the saga to be so reassuring and wholesome. Credit the presence of actor Ryder Allen as Sam, Eddie’s young neighbor. He pulls off the most challenging piece that is key to the entire project. His character could have been a parody of a confident tyke with catchphrases and overacting. Instead, we are offered a deeply nuanced portrait of a boy that doesn’t adhere to traditional interests. Sam seems like a genuine person and we are invested in his plight. Some recognition for this (and honestly every great child performance) should also go to the director. Oscar-winning documentarian Fisher Stevens (The Cove, Crazy Love) deserves kudos. Stevens doesn’t direct fiction often. His comedy Stand Up Guys (2012) wasn’t well-received, but this is surprisingly entertaining. Cheryl Guerriero’s screenplay adheres to reliable story beats that entertain and uplift with a relaxed air of comfort. I will admit I eye-rolled more than once at situations I foresaw well before they occurred. For example, the second Palmer meets Sam’s beautiful and conspicuously available teacher (Alisha Wainwright), I knew it was only a matter of time before they would date. And yet, I was OK with the clichés. Why? Simple old fashioned storytelling and honest portrayals. That is enough to propel a conventional film into an enjoyable experience. Simply put, this movie made me happy.

02-01-21

4 Responses to “Palmer”

  1. Greg Skala Says:

    I particularly liked this review. Thanks, Mark.

    Like

  2. This was pretty predictable, but I liked it a lot. Justin was good, but the kid, was even better. 4 ⭐️

    Like

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