Apple TV+ film review: Palmer
Ivan Radford | On 03, Feb 2021
Director: Fisher Stevens
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, June Squibb, Alisha Wainright, Ryder Allen
Watch Palmer online in the UK: Apple TV+
“Kids are mean, especially when they see something that they ain’t used to seeing.” That’s Palmer (Justin Timberlake) in Palmer, the kind of worthy character drama that plays things as safe as its one-word title.
Eddie Palmer is a former high school football prodigy who, after a stint behind bars, returns to his hometown to put his life back together. Living with his Aunt Vivian (June Squibb), he manages to get a job as the janitor at his old school, facing down criticisms and comments from other people in the town. Then, a whole new challenge emerges when Sam (Ryder Allen), a young kid with a wayward mother, Shelly (Juno Temple), stays with Vivian – and, after she passes away, becomes Palmer’s responsibility. Could Sam give Palmer one last shot at redemption?
The answer to that question won’t come as much of a surprise, with Cheryl Guerriero’s script willing to follow every play in the Hollywood screenwriting book. Director Fisher Stevens leans into that conventional approach, from the acoustic guitar soundtrack to the melancholic vibe, but there are flashes of something sincere between the overly familiar pages.
Justin Timberlake has always been a charismatic performer and he makes for a suitably grizzled, understated antihero, selling the moments of anger in between his gradual, inevitable softening up – and he has a likeable spark with Alisha Wainwriht as Maggie, a teacher with a heart of gold. But while the film is happy to stick to predictable, broad strokes, Palmer’s real strength is the introduction of newcomer Ryder Allen as Sam.
A gender non-conforming boy, Sam plays with dolls instead of footballs, and Allen is heartbreakingly good at capturing the resilience required to tolerate the bullying of others who don’t realise the stereotypical expectations thrust upon them from a young age – and Sam’s inspiring self-confidence to be himself no matter what. It’s moving to witness that kind of determination and such an open-hearted exploration of issues that don’t get much airtime in mainstream cinema – if only the rest of the film was equally something we’re not used to seeing.
Palmer is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.