Premiering exclusively on Apple TV +, Palmer is a thought-provoking and emotionally powerful drama about acceptance and second chances. Justin Timberlake stars as Eddie Palmer, a former rising star in a small-town community in Louisiana whose bad decisions turned him into a convicted felon. As he attempts to get his life back on track, Eddie is faced with a series of obstacles standing in his way, including his neighbor Shelly (Juno Temple), who frequently abandons her son, Sam (Ryder Allen), for days or even weeks at a time. Through a series of unexpected events, Eddie and Sam begin to form a deeper connection based on how they are treated and viewed by those around them.
Truth be told, I knew absolutely nothing about Palmer before seeing the trailer back in mid-December. About halfway through, I decided to stop the trailer because I was already sold and was afraid that it would give away too much of the plot. Now having seen the film, I am happy to report that it struck a chord with me. If it came out a few weeks early, it would have definitely been in my top ten of the year. I’m a sucker for films that focus on troubled characters, but what I really admired about Palmer were the relationships and how authentic they were.
Eddie Palmer encapsulates what life is like for many who grow up in small-towns all across America. Eddie is not a bad guy but rather someone who got lost along the way. He went from being someone with a lot of promise to someone struggling to get by. We hear and read stories like this all the time. This film tells an American story with universal themes about making mistakes, asking for forgiveness, and getting a chance to make it right. Unlike most other films that tackle similar subjects, Palmer finds a way to show the good with the bad. This aspect of the film elevates it from being lost in a sea of other films that center around people who have made bad decisions and struggle to get their lives back on track.
Furthermore, the relationship that is created between Eddie and Sam is ultimately the crux of this story. Eddie and Sam are each viewed as outcasts in the community but for wildly different reasons. What makes this all the more interesting is that Eddie was once seen as a hometown hero. He was a football star with a bright future ahead of him. However, after his arrest, everyone in the town now sees him differently. On the other hand, as a 7-year-old boy, Sam is not accepted by most of the community because he likes to play with dolls, wear dresses, and watch cartoons about princesses. This labels him as “different.”
This pairing makes for such a unique character study because it has rarely been explored before. On the surface, these two characters may not seem like they have anything in common. Still, as the story progresses, you can see why they form a connection and how it serves as a key motivation for Eddie to want to live a better life by having a new sense of purpose that stems from his relationship with Sam. The chemistry between Justin Timberlake and Ryder Allen is absolutely sublime and honestly makes the film so emotionally impactful.
Justin Timberlake’s career as an actor has been quite interesting. He has appeared in films like The Social Network while also doing voice-over work in animated movies like Trolls. He is an actor who has always shown a lot of promise. With Palmer, he was finally allowed to disappear into a role. Without question, this is Timberlake’s best performance to date, as you can see throughout the film how committed he is to this character and bringing a level of authenticity to his performance. Timberlake’s portrayal of Eddie is not a character that you immediately like. In fact, I disliked the character and found him to be somewhat of an asshole for the first 30 minutes of the film. However, like with any good narrative and performance, the character slowly grows on you and changes as the story progresses. As a viewer, you begin to understand why he is the way he is.
Newcomer Ryder Allen is going to have a long career ahead of him. Allen embodies the character of Sam with such ease. His performance is not showy in any way but instead highlights Sam as being just a normal kid who likes things that society doesn’t see as normal. There are so many scenes throughout the film where Sam’s character doesn’t even understand why people view him as different. When going shopping for Halloween, Sam picks up a princess costume. Eddie explains to Sam how it is not socially acceptable for a boy to dress up as a princess for Halloween. However, Sam doesn’t see what the problem is, and despite even being bullied, continues to stand behind what he likes. Allen brings this natural innocence to his character, making it so easy for the viewer to root for him and see the world through his eyes.
June Squibb, Juno Temple, and Alisha Wainwright also provide great help as supporting characters. Squibb plays Eddie’s grandmother, and she is the one who takes him in while he is trying to get back on his feet. I love June Squibb, and I think her limited screentime in this film is, without question, a highlight. She manages to always put a smile on my face, and I loved her relationship with Eddie and Sam.
As for Juno Temple, she really has a knack for playing complicated female characters. As Sam’s biological mother, Shelly should be easy to write off as a bad mother, but Temple finds a way to make the viewer feel compassionate towards her and what she has been through. For a character that only has about 20 minutes’ worth of screentime, I found her arc to be somewhat powerful and true to life. As someone who has had plenty of experience with foster children and parents with substance abuse issues, I think the film and Juno’s performance really showcased what it is like for a parent and a child to live in that type of environment.
Alisha Wainwright plays Maggie, who is Sam’s teacher. I don’t want to give too much away about her character or the role she plays within the story but let’s say that she becomes the voice of reason for Eddie and is absolutely a joy to watch whenever she is on-screen.
Lastly, I have to give director Fisher Stevens credit for putting together a film that tackles difficult themes but does so with an uplifting tone. As I said previously, so many films that deal with characters with troubled pasts tend to be downers. While there are definitely some emotional and hard-hitting moments in this film, it is not without hope. There are many lighthearted moments mixed in with severe subject matters like bullying and substance abuse. I applaud Cheryl Guerriero as well for writing multi-dimensional characters — ones that grow and evolve over the course of the film’s near-2 hour runtime.
It is refreshing to see a film like this, especially nowadays where so many stories focus solely on the negatives. This film finds that perfect balance of showing the good and bad while also doing something completely fresh and new with the troubled past trope. The result is a life-affirming film about embracing who you are and accepting others despite their differences. Palmer definitely tackles important themes that the world desperately needs right now.