The Reel Review
Justin Timberlake stars in this AppleTV+ drama about a former high school football star who returns to his hometown in rural Louisiana to rebuild his life after 12 years in prison. A series of events lead him to forge an unlikely bond with a bullied, non gender-conforming little boy from a troubled home next door.
While these types of personal redemption movies are nothing new, writer Cheryl Guerriero injects an extra dose of realism and moving sentimentality into her screenplay, which addresses toxic masculinity and frustratingly ineffective laws that protect awful parenting. The result is a truly powerful tearjerker with an enormous amount of heart.
Justin Timberlake, in a serious departure from comedies such as Trolls and Bad Teacher, channels his character’s lifetime of sadness and helpless frustration in trying to help the sweet young boy who ends up helping give his own life meaning. Timberlake is good, but it would have been nice to see Timberlake show as much emotion as the ugly cry that the film elicits in us viewers.
The ensemble cast is outstanding. Ryder Allen is an absolute delight as the mercilessly bullied, princess and fairy-loving little boy who bravely refuses to let anyone in this conservative town tell him how to be, with strong performances from Juno Temple (Ted Lasso) as his drug addicted, barely there mother, Alisha Wainwright (Shadowhunters) as his schoolteacher and June Squibb (Nebraska, Table 19) as Palmer’s kindhearted grandma. Oscar-winning producer Fisher Stevens (The Cove) gives us all the feels in this powerful and sweet drama.
• Justin Timberlake says growing up in the South (Memphis, Tennessee) enabled him to relate to both lead characters and hopes viewers get the message of self love and acceptance from the film.
• Palmer is 8-year-old Ryder Allen’s first film role. He says he didn’t know who Justin Timberlake was until he was cast in the film but that they “are now best friends.” About his character, Allen tells Variety magazine, “he knows that by giving somebody a hug, that can be the highlight of their day.”
• Although set in the fictional town of Sylvain, Palmer was filmed in late 2019 (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) in Hammond, Louisiana, about 45 minutes from New Orleans.