“Palmer” is the type of conventional, formulaic movie that’s designed for audiences who don’t appreciate surprises. This redemption story about an ex-con who bonds with a misfit kid follows a tried-and-true blueprint that’s predictable and saccharine sweet, but the film has an honorable message of understanding and acceptance that celebrates unity — even if it does so on the most basic level.
Former high school football star Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) had his whole life ahead of him until a violent mistake turned the All-American boy into a convicted felon. After spending 12 years in prison, Palmer returns home to Louisiana and moves in with his grandmother Vivian (June Squibb). Grandma has taken a liking to the unusual 7-year-old boy named Sam (Ryder Allen) who is living next door with his deadbeat druggie mother, Shelly (Juno Temple). When the boy’s mom runs off for a much longer time than usual, Sam temporarily moves in with his neighbors.
Circumstances change for everyone in the weeks that follow, and Palmer begins to notice that he and the eccentric young boy have more in common than either of them first thought. These two outcasts form a strong bond, each of them making a fresh start with their lives.
The idea of a child who doesn’t conform to gender norms isn’t exactly a challenging topic for most of us in 2021, but the film is so charming that it could break through to the very people who need to be given a gentle nudge and lesson in acceptance. In fact, at first I thought this was a faith-based movie (until the sex scenes and swearing started).
Timberlake and Allen have a sweet chemistry that is essential for a buddy movie like this to work. There are a lot of emotional bits that border on corny, but the film still doesn’t seem too artificial. The narrative falls into place as expected, and the uplifting story about being yourself and doing the best you can to make a difference in a child’s life will tug on many heartstrings.