By Lynn Venhaus
“Palmer” may be predictable, but it’s a heartwarming relatable story about acceptance and second chances.
After 12 years in prison, former high school football star Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) returns home to put his life back together, Living with his grandma (June Squibb), he forms an unlikely bond with neighbor Sam (Ryder Allen), an outcast boy from a troubled home.
This modest film uses the trope of small minds in a small town as its setting in Louisiana, which works for the character of a young nonconformist who doesn’t care about fitting into a gender lane. And leads to the bond he forms with an ex-con starting over.
Cheryl Guerriero’s screenplay has created roles that the cast plays convincingly. Newcomer Ryder Allen delivers a poignant performance as Sam, who is bullied for his feminine-leaning proclivities, like wearing a princess costume for Halloween and playing with dolls.
Justin Timberlake, the Tennessee-born music superstar, is strong as straightened out Eddie Palmer trying to fly right. He’s always been a likeable personality, from his days on “The All-New Mickey Mouse Club” to his boy band popularity to his five times hosting “Saturday Night Live” and his Grammy-winning solo career (10 wins, 39 nominations).
In his few movie appearances, he’s been a natural. Here, he must carry the movie, and he’s believable at every step. He becomes the father figure to Sam, and there isn’t a false move from either of them.
Their bond is genuine. Over time, they become to rely on each other as Sam stays at Palmer’s house – his drug-addict mom Shelly (Juno Temple) has taken off with her boyfriend Jerry (Dean Winters) – and Eddie has been hired as a janitor at Sam’s elementary school. Eddie becomes his watchdog and caretaker.
The supporting cast is strong, too, with Alisha Wainwright as helpful third grade teacher Miss Maggie, who begins dating Eddie, and Juno Temple as Sam’s irresponsible mother.
Ninety-year-old June Squibb, from Vandalia, Ill., is Eddie’s crotchety but loving grandmother Vivian, a devout churchgoer and benevolent neighbor to Sam and his mother.
Actor-director Fisher Stevens directed fluidly, simply letting the story be told.
Once in a while, you discover a sweet story about people struggling to make things right in their world. “Palmer” succeeds in bringing together people who need each other, whose lives are changed because of their association.
“Palmer” is a drama directed by Fisher Stevens and starring Justin Timberlake, Ryder Allen, June Squibb, Juno Temple, Alisha Wainwright and Dean Winters. Rated R for language, some sexual content and nudity, and brief violence, it runs 1 hour, 50 minutes. Available Jan. 29 on Apple TV+. Lynn’s Grade: B
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.