Well intended with a heart, but ultimately trite and not overly surprising on a dramatic level, Palmer is a well acted but flawed film that comes across more like a TV movie with its important subject matter. Part dissection on the impact on the livelihoods of ex-convicted felons once they return home from their prison sentences, part domestic drama, part melodrama, but very cliché and familiar that get’s trapped in many melodramatic detours, the film nevertheless is worthy of your time and should be talked about due to its timely issues about gender dysphoria and child abandonment.
Arguably the first Hollywood movie about the impact and bigotry gender identity has on children and the adults in their lives, Palmer will perhaps launch other films to tackle on the same subject matter, just like the cycle of other mainstream LGBTQ movies that began with Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Far From Heaven (2002), and Brokeback Mountain (2005). Like those LTBTQ driven films, among many more that were released after, these films among sitcoms like Will and Grace did a lot for culture as a majority of American’s now support marriage equality and other LGBTQ human rights in America. Now with transgender topics making news headlines along with debates about transgender lifestyles and gender dysphoria remains a more discussed and empathetic topic where it was just taboo 10 years ago as we learn more about the psychology and science that are involved with a an issue like this. While now more accepted than it once was, transgender acceptance still has a lot of work to go.
Like those other films, Palmer will probably divide audiences in terms of its social messaging. If anything, this film remains a star vehicle for Justin Timberlake who acquits himself just as strong as a leading role as a supporting player. In addition to his impressive supporting roles, his standout supporting performances include David Fincher’s Oscar-nominated The Social Network, for which he received some Oscar buzz for Best Supporting Actor but sadly wasn’t nominated, Richard Kelly’s surreal and abstract cult classic Southland Tales, and he had a small role in the 2013 Coen Bros. film Inside Llewyn Davis. With Palmer, Timberlake delivers an emotionally charged performance filled with angst, torment, and finally courage. His performance here doesn’t miss one false note.
Most of his most notable performances have been in supporting roles working with first-rate directors mentioned above, however with Palmer he has the opportunity to show just how much of an accomplished actor that he really is. Nominally speaking, Palmer written by newcomer screenwriter Cheryl Guerriero and directed by actor-turned-director Fisher Stevens tells the narrative of an ex-convict (Palmer) who returns home to temporary stay with his grandmother Vivian (Jude Squibb) who often looks over her neighbor’s young son, a trouble boy named Sam (a stellar Ryder Allen) who comes from a troubled home from Shelley (Juno Temple,) who is his drug-addicted mother.
While the film becomes very maudlin and paint-by-the-numbers in the third act the film should be commended for its character depth, strong performances, and for it saying something more substantial about the irreversible damages and tolls abuse and neglect brings to a child. This becomes clear throughout the film as you pull for Palmer to connect with young Sam and to guide him for the proper care and attention that all children need. This becomes clear in the final 30 mins that become very melodramatic that is actually anchored by Timberlake’s anguish and convincing expressions he brings to the role that makes his character irresistible and likable.
Though the narrative and story seem overly familiar, about a deeply flawed individual who’s a heavy drinker who takes a while to warm up to someone in desperate need, and the movie often drags, the narrative overall is engaging and the characters compelling enough to make it a deserve some attention and it’s overall a worthy of your time spent. Certainly more of a crowd-pleaser that should satisfy audiences due to its themes of acceptance, combating abuse and bigotry, as well as being a tumultuous journey about redemption and self-discovery. However, more selective viewers may find the film to be more ill-advised and ill-served due to its schematic plot and southern fried clichés of unoriginal supporting characters. Shelly, while a transformative performance by Tempo comes off more as a one-dimensional caricature of a drug addict who isn’t given too much nuance or character insights. Palmer’s old high school friends are your typical hateful, racist, and crude type of characters that serve no purpose other than to elevate Sam’s purpose and growth. Sam ends up encountering and falling for Sam’s teacher, Maggie (Alisha Wainwright) who comes across way too pietist, and the romance with Timberlake doesn’t feel too convincing and rather tacked-on.
Despite these deep flaws, it should be noted that Palmer if anything holds the power to hopefully change audiences and hearts and minds with good intentions. The character of Sam is a young boy who is obviously enduring gender dysphoria as he enjoys princesses, dressing up as a princess, and his closest friends are girls his age where they have tea parties. The film actually doesn’t come too didactic with its sexual orientation are kids have, no matter how we feel about ex-convicts, or what our political stances, we simply must realize that every child deserves a good home where they won’t endure traumatic themes on this, yet just shows how matter-of-fact the issue is. The film should be commended as well for exploring human truths that is a very humane film. The film would like us to believe, no matter what effects from neglectful parents. Also society must become more accepting in allowing children to become what they inevitably will become because any repression a child holds will learn the long term effects of depression and anxieties. All around Palmer is a very noble film, sadly it’s just not as fresh or inventive as it could have been. (Now Streaming Apple TV+)