Palmer premieres on Apple TV + on 29th January 2021
Once upon a time, the weekly cinema listings were full of diversity at any multiplex, the big-ticket films cushioned on either side by small but perfectly formed dramas centred on small-town life, social issues and family. Many of these films became classics in their own right, from Radio Flyer to A River Runs Through It, but the space offered to these films in cinema schedules has disappeared over time as theatres embraced the blockbuster at the expense of everything else.
In recent years streaming platforms have picked up where cinema left off by giving a voice to the perfectly packaged dramas that once reigned supreme in matinee slots. Palmer is one of those movies; its rich exploration of toxic masculinity in small-town America full of dramatic clout, heart and hope.
Justin Timberlake makes a welcome return to the screen as Eddie Palmer, a former football star whose career ended in disgrace with a prison sentence. His return home to Louisiana is bittersweet as he moves in with the grandmother who raised him. However, Palmer soon learns that his grandmother is also caring for Sam (Ryder Allen), the son of Shelly, who lives in a trailer next door. Shelly’s life is a mix of drug addiction and domestic violence that often leads her to disappear for weeks. When Shelly vanishes, leaving Sam with Palmer and his grandmother, Palmer initially gives the boy a wide berth, confused by his mannerisms and his love of dresses and dolls. However, when tragedy strikes, Palmer finds himself the sole carer of young Sam and an unlikely role model.
Directed by Fisher Stevens, a man more accustomed to non-fiction work, Palmer sings with sincerity and love, even if its social conversations often lack the space needed to fully unfold. As his relationship with Sam grows, Palmer learns that his own views on masculinity led to his fall from grace. In essence, Palmer’s care for Sam is a rebirth and a challenge to unpick the very foundations his life is built upon.
Justin Timberlake’s assured performance is central to the movie’s success in reflecting discussions on male belonging, identity and pressure his quiet and calm performance wrapped in the anger and pain of failure. But it’s young Ryder Allen who excels in helping Palmer to unpick the antiquated gender roles we still use in the socialisation of our children.
While it may not be perfect, Palmer maintains an optimism for the future that is both heartwarming and welcome in our current world, and while it may not tie up all the loose ends, Cheryl Guerriero’s screenplay is brave and bold in its vision and love.
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