Everything in Palmer (available on Apple TV+) happens according to plan. The well-oiled, supremely confident screenplay springs no surprises offers no new insights into human relationships. This wonderfully unassuming film offers the comfort of the familiar. Superstar Justin Timberlake makes an impressive comeback in the title role.
After 12 years in prison, Palmer comes home to his kind grandmother (June Squibb) who offers him a home and a second chance, and that includes an opportunity to play Daddy to a young almost-motherless deviant boy Sam, played delightfully by Ryder Allen.
Sam has many problems. Not only is his mother always on the run, Sam likes to play with dolls, dress up as Princess Penelope and sneaks into Palmer’s grandmother’s makeup kit to try on some lipstick. This could have been every LGBTQ activist’s worst nightmare come true. A soppy, patronizing film about a gay boy. Instead, the director Fisher Stevens turns the potentially trite screenplay into something precious valuable and charming.
Credit for making the central relationship between Palmer and Sam look convincing goes to the two actors. They play their characters as sexually emotionally diverse human beings ready to give each a chance, willing to accept one another as they are. And as the two characters come close in the screenplay through well-written touching scenes, the director keeps the proceedings endearingly blithe-spirited.
There is no pontificating on gay right here, just a reluctant surrogate-parent trying to understand where his new responsibility is coming from. Everything seems to move in this moving movie smoothly. You know that the downslide in the father-son bonding will come. But you hope it wouldn’t. And when it does, you just want these two social outcasts to be together again.
The return of Sam’s missing drugged-out mother (Juno Temple) signals some amount of awkwardness in the script. You wish this grotesque specimen of motherhood would disappear so that the little boy and his new daddy can go back to playing house. Wish fulfilment at its most effervescent, Palmer will steal your heart. This is a commercial mainstream American cinema offering every person, no matter how different, a chance to dream, a stab at belonging.
Directed by Fisher Stevens, Plamer gets 3 and a half stars
Image source: IMDb, Instagram/justintimberlake, Youtube/AppleCanada
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