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Palmer paints a path to redemption



Director Fisher Stevens (Just a Kiss) brings screenwriter Cheryl Guerriero's drama to Apple TV. After 12 years in prison, Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake), makes his way back his Louisiana hometown and to Vivian (June Squibb), the grandmother who raised him after his mother ran off and his father died. Hoping for a fresh start, the former high school quarterback has a hard time finding a job, haunted by his memories and eyed suspiciously by the town's residents. In the trailer next to Vivian's property resides hard-living single mom, Shelly (Juno Temple), and her flamboyant 7-year-old son, Sam (Ryder Allen), who's teased by his male classmates for his girlish affectations. Promiscuous and drugged out, Shelly often leaves Sam with Vivian, and on an especially long bender, Vivian dies, leaving Palmer to deal with Sam. The reluctant new guardian doesn't know what to make of the boy, though soon Palmer and Sam forge a unique friendship, and Palmer begins to see new possibilities for his life, especially after he meets Sam's teacher, Maggie (Alisha Wainwright). Things seem to be looking up for Palmer, but soon his past threatens to destroy his new life. (110 min.)

THE FAMILY YOU PICK Reluctant guardian and ex-con, Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake), cares for quirky 7-year-old, Sam (Ryder Allen), in the Apple TV drama Palmer. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SIDNEY KIMMEL ENTERTAINMENT
  • Photo Courtesy Of Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
  • THE FAMILY YOU PICK Reluctant guardian and ex-con, Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake), cares for quirky 7-year-old, Sam (Ryder Allen), in the Apple TV drama Palmer.

Glen I went into this film knowing nothing about it except that it starred Justin Timberlake. I thought maybe it was an action film, but no, this is a redemption story about a young man who made a grave mistake, paid for it, and is now struggling to get his life back. It's also about family—the one we're born with but also the one we create. At its very core, it's about tolerance. Sam is such as sweet, kind little boy, and newcomer Ryder Allen is amazing in the role. Kids can be mean, and Sam is so different from other kids that they—and sadly some adults—don't know what to make of him, so he's teased mercilessly. This is really about a little boy who manages to find a way into the heart of a broken man, repairing it from the inside out. Aside from his voice work in the Trolls animated films, Timberlake's last film role was in Woody Allen's 2017's drama Wonder Wheel, so it's nice to see him back in a live-action film. He has to do a lot of emotional heavy lifting in this film, and he's up for the job. Timberlake manages to exude a sense of decency despite Palmer's violent past, and that violence is still there, barely contained under the surface. The story is on the mawkish side, but if you can set aside your cynicism and open up your heart like Palmer does with Sam, it'll give you all the feels.

Anna Seriously, this one is an emotional ride! JT is showing some true dramatic talent here, and while I'm sure the Trolls franchise was a ton of fun, it was nice to get him back up on that screen using more than his voice. You're so right about Ryder Allen—he is such a delight, and what a great role he was given to premiere with. Sam is an "other," loved by his mother but not cared for by her. She's a mess, and her boyfriend is an abusive jerk who thinks any boy who likes princesses and fairies needs to get his ass kicked. Timberlake gives Palmer a lot of depth, and we learn that while he may have gone to prison for his crime, there's more to the story than the attempted murder charge he was convicted of. The small town is still what it was before he went away—rural and churchgoing, filled with good ol' boys who are really just backwards idiots and judgmental townsfolk who don't trust the convict. The gold here is found in the moments between the two leads—Sam loves Palmer, and soon Palmer reluctantly realizes he loves Sam too. It's so sweet.

Glen I think the real beauty of Sam and Palmer's relationship is they've allowed each other to be themselves. Sam knows Palmer's not perfect, not especially nurturing, and not really equipped to care for a child as unusual as Sam, but Palmer also accepts Sam and all his girlish affectations and doesn't judge him for it. That's beautiful because you know Palmer grew up in the same town with the same influences as his less tolerant townsfolk, and he's somehow able to overcome his prejudices and preconceptions. Like any flavor of bigotry, that hatred of an effeminate little boy is taught, and Sam's future without someone to love, protect, and accept him could be very bleak indeed. Sam will probably grow up to transition to a woman, and if he does, Palmer seems evolved enough to love Sam the young woman as much as Sam the young man. Overly sentimental? Yes, but sometimes a feel-good film is exactly what you need.

Anna Watching Sam get bullied is so rough; that poor kid just wants to be himself. At Halloween, Palmer tries to convince Sam to be a prince instead of a princess. He's trying to save Sam from the boys in his class who are bound to make fun of him for it. Yet they still walk out of the store with a princess costume in hand, and while some of the kids in his class are jerks, not all of them are. Palmer seems to be a simmering pool just under the surface, close to boiling over—which could topple the fragile world he's managed to build. Can he really be the good guy that Sam needs, or is he bound to put himself in the position of being in trouble again? It's a lot of sap and sentiment, but I'm here for it. I needed this sweet story of second chances, and I'm so looking forward to seeing more from Ryder Allen. What a delight! Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at


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