Second Chances Require Both Patience and Hard Work in ‘Palmer’

Love, drama, the past, the present and the future are inextricably linked to form one, all-consuming, demanding mess; but as director Fisher Stevens showcases in his latest film, sometimes, what is caught in the eye of the storm can be worth it all.

Palmer sees Justin Timberlake in the titular role, portraying that of a former football star, now released from prison after serving a sentence of twelve years. Returning to living with his grandmother Vivian (June Squibb), Palmer immediately becomes entangled with misbehaviours once again. After a night of smoking and drinking, he has a one-night stand with Shelly (Juno Temple), the wayward woman living in the trailer next door to Vivian who just so happens to the mother of young Sam (Ryder Allen). Like a good, elderly neighbour, Vivian looks after Sam whether it be by baking treats for him, taking him to church or babysitting him for extended periods when Shelly takes off on one of her escapades.

Justin Timberlake as Palmer and Ryder Allen as Sam in 'Palmer'. Sam gives Palmer a hug, who appears to have mail in his right hand while his left is gently placed on Sam's back. Palmer smiled down at Sam. There are trees behind them.
Apple TV+

Despite Palmer being told repeatedly by friends and strangers that they’re glad he’s back with them, it’s all just shallow formalities; being a felon, that little blip can’t easily be ignored and proves a challenge for Palmer when he searches for work. Fortunately, a janitorial opening at the local elementary school provides the second chance that he needs.

His new job leads to him spending more time with Vivian and Sam. Palmer notices that the boy is frequently teased and bullied for his more traditionally feminine interests. Weeks down the road, Vivian dies in her sleep, leaving Palmer, and Sam, behind with nothing but an old house and each other’s company. Not interested in looking after Sam any longer, Palmer drops him off at the police station, only to have a sudden and arguably uncharacteristic change of heart. Eventually, albeit begrudgingly, Palmer begins to fall into the role of the adoptive guardian. Life has the ability to change things, and it’s up to us if we are going to change with it or fight it.

Palmer is an American dramatic piece, choosing to feature a companionship of a quirky nature, which seems to be a soft, understated niche in the film industry. Similar in style and tone to that of 2014’s St. Vincent and 2017’s Gifted, Palmer, though unoriginal in its approach to such a story, is endearing all the same.

Alisha Wainwright in a floral gold-yellow top. She leans forward as she speaks/smiles at a student in what appears to be a classroom setting. Ryder Allen's Sam is visible in the background.
Apple TV+

The small, not-so-urban, not-quite-rural town where the film takes place heightens viewers’ sympathies for not only Palmer’s situation, where everyone knows everyone and that includes their triumphs and, sadly, their mistakes. Though the underlying mood of the film is close to melancholy, it is subdued by the brightness of Louisiana itself where the shooting took place, and by Sam’s positive outlook. Such proves to be infectious, and slowly but surely, rubs off on Palmer despite his indifferent, independent exterior. If only Timberlake had contributed to the soundtrack, it would’ve added a nice personal touch to an overall heartful script.

Furthermore, the main cast of Timberlake, Alisha Wainwright and little Allen are charming. Each of their characters brings a new dimension to their rudimentary found family that balances and brings out the best in each other. Perhaps if the actors had more innovative material to interpret, rather than having to embody figures whose personalities feel slightly stereotypical—a now-hardened man, nostalgic and regretful; a beautiful teacher with a kind heart; an adorable child who notices and endures things they ought not to—the film would stand out amongst the others. 

Nonetheless, the bond that is built on screen between Palmer and Sam is unconventional and rocky on occasion yet filled with mutual love and tenderness that does bring on tears when it is put to the test throughout the course of the hour and fifty-minute runtime. During this current era, Steven’s film provides reassurance that there is indeed goodness in each of us and that however, we may be struggling, such goodness can be the second chance that we need—that each of us deserves.

Palmer is available on Apple TV+ from January 29th

by Kacy Hogg

Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, CinderellaCaptain America: The Winter SoldierThe Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95

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