Coming from out of the left-field so early in the year is this sweet, endearing, and wonderful little film called Palmer. Starring Justin Timberlake as Eddie Palmer, a former high-school turned college quarterback to a recently released felon, who just got out of a 12-year prison term and tries to start over in a quiet way by moving in with his grandmother Vivian and inadvertently befriending a young, unique 7-year old boy named Sam. All of this is possible from the directorial efforts of Fisher Stevens (the actor in the Short Circuit movies, Hackers, and My Science Project), who crafts an amazing story and character arcs for Eddie and Sam on their turbulent journey to fit in and create a newfound world of hope, understanding, and love. Turns out, Palmer is one of the best films of 2021 so far with a riveting performance from Timberlake who continues to ascend to greatness as an actor on the big screen. Highly Recommended!
Make no mistake, Palmer is a story that's been done many times in various forms on television and in film, but this eccentric group of characters and actors and all of their chemistry put it above the rest, even if it's a bit predictable. That doesn't matter much since these characters ooze a magnificent amount of charm throughout, even at their low points. And Stevens has an eye for crating this drama in such a way that showcases both the emotional and physical transformation of Palmer's psyche of an old belief system to his new lease on life from Cheryl Guerriero's tight screenplay.
Eddie Palmer (Timberlake) has just been released from prison back to his small home town where he moves in with his grandmother Vivian (June Squibb). Palmer is the stoic and quiet type these days but understands his lot in life now - taking any job he can get an understanding that most people in town won't hire ex-convicts or even have the decency to talk to him. However, he's grateful for what he now has - even if it isn't much. On Vivian's land is the motorhome she leases out to a highly abusive and drug-fueled set of parents who have a wonderful young kid named Sam (Ryder Allen in his big-screen debut). Sam's mom Shelly (Juno Temple) is constantly under a heroin daze while the father Jerry (Dean Winters) is full of physical abuse to both of them. Whenever they up and leave town for weeks on end, young Sam is left in the care of Vivian.
Now Sam at a young age knows exactly who he is and is never apologetic for it. He doesn't much care for football, GI Joe, or bike riding. Instead, he has a penchant for princesses, dolls, doing hair, and cheerleading. Needless to say - in a small town, he doesn't have many friends, and it's not just the young kids his age that pick on him - it's also the adults. At first, Palmer can't stand this kid, but the two form a close bond over being different and looked down upon in town and with the help of Sam's excellent teacher Maggie (Alisha Wainwright), both Palmer and Sam start to excel and realize there is good in the world, alongside Palmer's transformation into wanting to help others and being a father.
Palmer is a series of downers with intimate flashes of happiness, but it's enough to keep everyone rooting for the three main leads in the film. There are some fairly difficult sequences involving abuse here, but Justin Timberlake's performance of a man who knows what's right and wrong really does steal the show and his skills as an actor are getting more nuanced and better with each outing. It's his smaller and balanced reactions that really set him aside in this picture as he handles Sam's abusers and bullies at school. As for the young Ryder Allen, this is one hell of a big-screen debut, full of a powerful ability to convey this eccentric character of Sam. This kid is gonna be a star.
Palmer is a remarkable story with top-tier performances led by Timberlake and manages to feel fresh and original inside an already tried and true tale that's been told many times before. Hopefully, Justin will put an ounce of this dedication, talent, nuance, and power into his next album. Highly Recommended!