Fisher Stevens' Palmer is a familiar family drama about rediscovering one's purpose in life and accepting others for who they are, anchored down by a reliable and occasionally captivating performance from Justin Timberlake. Palmer might look like just another cheesy drama bait, but it certainly packs an emotional punch, followed by the reassurance that life isn't always bad and that second chances are just as important today as they were in the past.
Fisher Stevens‘ latest drama Palmer is available exclusively to stream on Apple TV+. The script, penned by Cheryl Guerriero, focuses on the titular character, played with vulnerability and progression by Justin Timberlake in what can be described as a family drama that deals with topical issues, including identity, forgiveness, redemption and progression as its characters are faced with challenges around almost every corner.
Palmer (Justin Timberlake) is a recently-released convict that served twelve years for robbery and assault. He acknowledges the mistakes that he’s made and has decided to attempt to turn his life around by moving back in with his grandma and getting a job.
While settling in, he notices a trailer next door, with a mother (Juno Temple) and her young son Sam (Ryder Allen). At first, Palmer shrugs off the duo as he notices Sam acting strangely by dressing up as a princess and being more interested in playing with unicorns and fairies than footballs and basketballs.
Palmer eventually confronts the kid and reminds him that he’s a boy and that boys don’t play with dolls or watch “girly” cartoons, only for Sam to respond and remind him that he can be the first.
It’s this subtle and honest interaction that catapults the movie from a story about one man’s redemption as he confronts and deals with his past mistakes, to a touching drama about family, identity and being comfortable in your own shoes, as long as there’s respect and love.
The dynamic between Timberlake’s Palmer and Allen’s Sam is what makes Palmer such an enjoyable film, because it handles both of their situations with honesty and reality, highlighting both the ups and downs of being judged and written off before even getting a chance to say a word.
It does this by confronting the themes with duality, focusing half on Palmer’s own struggles as he tries getting a job and reminding them that yes, he is a convicted felon, but also one that served his time and is now trying to return to a normal life.
Likewise, it highlights Sam’s comfortability with being a boy that might not seem like the rest, but is still a fun loving kid that just wants friends and family to spend time with, like any other child.
Fisher Stevens‘ direction is steady and well-placed, balancing in a healthy dose of drama with some lighter moments that are both fun and rewarding. Stevens isn’t afraid to tackle the subject matter with authenticity, highlighting both the cause and effect and reminding us that decisions do have consequences. But this is achieved not by hitting us over the head with heavy scenes one after another, but instead sprinkling them in throughout, using them as defining moments within a film that’s full of a bunch of other great content.
Cheryl Guerriero‘s script is lean and progresses naturally, capturing the cinematic essence of the story in a way that might feel familiar, yet still packs in some surprises within its performances and the screen time shared between such stars.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that this was Justin Timberlake‘s show. He anchors the film with a performance that shows us his vulnerable side. There’s also some aggression built up, but compassion is the key player here and it’s great seeing Timberlake shine in such a well-rounded performance that reminds us that he has the range and capability to act amongst some of the finest.
Ryder Allen also turns in a notable performance as the young boy Sam. He highlights Sam’s unique feelings and emotions in a way that feels as completely normal as it should, never making the boy feel like someone different, despite other characters reacting to him as such. It’s a delicate performance that gives the film the confidence to tackle its material with ease.
Ultimately, Palmer is successful at capturing the importance of second chances and identity in our modern world. It takes courage and understanding to allow such a conversation and the film highlights the people that are willing to do so in an honest way. Palmer himself is a convicted felon that could be labeled as a criminal or a thug the rest of his life, despite serving his time and making all the efforts possible to change his situation and how people see him, just as Sam is a little boy that wants to be a princess and understands that he might not be considered “normal” when compared to other boys, but is simply enjoying his life and trying to express himself without harming others — he’s a real cool kid if you get to know him.
I can see some writing this one off as cheesy drama bait and I understand that, because the trailers are pretty “by the books” in terms of how it outlines the overall film and I wouldn’t argue with someone calling this a comfort film, but I do think it’s worth of a watch, because of the performances and how they intertwine with the subject material in a way that feels like an educational reminder of how bad it is to judge a book by its cover or to even give into cancel culture in the slightest.
Second chances are powerful and strong and identity is about being who you feel comfortable as and about those around you accepting you for who you are and respecting you for the person that you have become, not the person you once were.
Palmer is available to stream exclusively on Apple TV+.