Review: Timberlake drama 'Palmer' hits where it counts

Justin Timberlake stars as ex-con who, with the help of a new friend, learns to look at the world with new eyes

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The sweetness outweighs the sentimentality in "Palmer," a well intentioned if overly telegraphed story of tolerance and understanding in rural America. 

Justin Timberlake stars as Eddie Palmer, a former football star turned convict after he was locked up on attempted murder charges. Now out, he returns to his small Louisiana hometown to start over, living with his grandmother Vivian (June Squibb) and looking for work. 

Justin Timberlake and Ryder Allen in "Palmer." (Apple via AP)

After, er, making the acquaintance of his trash tornado neighbor Shelly (Juno Temple), Palmer befriends her grade-school aged son, Sam (Ryder Allen). When Shelly up and disappears on her latest bender, as she's prone to do, Sam comes to live with Palmer and helps reshape his outlook on the world. 

Sam isn't like the other boys in school. He wears pink, plays with dolls and is obsessed with princesses. Palmer at first discourages Sam from this behavior, urging him to suppress his impulses and fit in with his classmates. But as he grows closer to Sam, Palmer sees Sam shouldn't have to change for anyone, and he's the one who needs to change.  

"Palmer" is full of teachable moments delivered with the subtlety of a glowing neon sign. In its homestretch there's a bar fight, a throwdown in a trailer and a weepy courtroom scene. It doesn't exactly fly under the radar and begs you to reach for a box of Kleenex.  

And yet. Despite director Fisher Stevens' heavy handed approach, "Palmer" — and especially young Ryder Allen — has a way of hitting you where it counts.

Timberlake is a bit stoic and monotone in his performance — Shia LaBeouf, for example, would have brought an unpredictable and much needed energy to the role — but the movie's bright outlook outweighs its muddled execution. It has a lot of heart, and heart matters. 

'Palmer'

GRADE: B-

Rated R: for language, some sexual content/nudity and brief violence

Running time: 110 minutes

On Apple TV+

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama