Review: ‘Palmer’ is pretty good!

Here’s a confession: I love Justin Timberlake. The guy is a triple threat. He can sing, he can dance, and he can act. Not everything he has been in has been gold, but he’s put in enough good performances that I am ready and willing to see just about anything he is in these days.

It has been a few years since Timberlake has been seen in person in a film, and Palmer represents exactly the kind of movie that an actor looking to re-assert themselves after a bad role or an absence (or both) would take. So is it any good? Yeah. Mostly.

Timberlake stars as the titular Palmer, a former high school football star who returns to his hometown after a 12-year stint in prison. He moves in with his grandmother Vivian (played by June Squibb), who also rents out a trailer in the back yard to Shelly (Juno Temple) and her son Sam (Ryder Allen). Shelly, a meth addict, pretty quickly disappears on a bender leaving Sam in the care of Vivian and Palmer.

Palmer is the kind of man who doesn’t make speak unless he needs to, and has twelve years worth of anger pent up from his time in prison. The film takes its time revealing exactly what crime he went to prison for and how everyone in his life is connected to that event (and they are). Sam is a kid as out of place in one of these towns as you could be in this day and age, one who eschews gender norms. He prefers princesses to sports and dresses to pants.

Justin Timberlake and Ryder Allen / Palmer

In case you are wondering: yes, you have definitely seen this movie before. This is exactly the kind of movie that in the 1990s or early 2000s would be on screens late in the summer: to quite a blockbuster, but not quite of the calibre to warrant an awards run, but still a solid if forgettable entry in everyone’s filmography and a great debut from Ryder Allen. If there were one thing to highlight about the movie, it would be Allen and how it treats his character. Ok, that’s two things, but Allen is really good, and the film is smart enough to highlight that Sam doesn’t fit in but not to make it the focus of the movie.

What is interesting to me is that if Justin Timberlake were just starting his journey as an actor, then this would be a movie worth fawning over. His performance doesn’t have the depth it probably should, but he shows potential and acquits himself well. This isn’t the start of his journey though, and the result is that the film is a sweet but formulaic entry in the subgenre of “broken men made whole via a connection with a child” movies.

Palmer is exactly the kind of movie that streaming services are made for: a good cast, a good story, a good debut performance. It lacks depth, but the central relationship mostly makes up for it, and at the end of the day, a sweet and uplifting movie is exactly the kind of comfort viewing we need right now.

Palmer is available on AppleTV+ now.