Still trying to get a catch in the competitive stream against the likes of Netflix and Amazon, Apple TV+’s latest movie, Palmer, is another commendable effort to grab a bite from audiences, but with all too familiar bait. Our leading man plays the titular ex-con that heads back to the town he grew up in, quickly learning that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Scorned by some locals for his past deeds and doubted even by his own grandma, one of the only people that doesn’t see that he’s hoping to start over, is Sam (Ryder Allen), who lives in a neighbouring trailer with his drug addict mum, and is a social outcast himself. Bullied at school for wanting to be a princess and having more sass than the town, or Parker can handle, circumstances lead the two to form a friendship and find second chances for each other, as a result.
Carrying almost familiar echoes of his supporting role in Black Snake Moan 14 years ago, Palmer’s leading man conjures a reserved soul struggling with his inner demons, but isn’t really given much space to exorcise them. Timberlake handles the character without any major issues mainly because the story doesn’t demand he go any deeper. Always with his head hung low and showing discomfort with every set of judgemental eyes aimed at him, there’s not enough in Cheryl Guerriero’s script for you to really feel his pain. Even when the time does come for him to drudge up the past, it lacks the gut punch the story is trying to swing with, and that’s not just with its lead’s personal issues, either. The important element of Sam going against this small town social norm makes itself present in an ironically old and basic fashion (“something ain’t right with that kid,” says one local barfly) that might earn a reaction, but should’ve had a sharper one. Timberlake is capable of more and we’re just waiting to see it appear, but it never really gets the chance to. Thankfully, this setback is outshone by the saving grace both for the film and Timberlake’s character, in the heart-melting turn of Ryder Allen, who is the unquestionably redeeming ingredient of it all.
Allen is the good luck charm that brightens every scene he’s in. Deflecting Palmer’s questioning of choice in Halloween outfits, and fairy-focused cartoons, he’s the element of uplifting sincerity the film is clearly aiming for. Bringing a legitimate innocence and chemistry with his co-star that stays constant, your heart will go out on every sweet and harsh note in equal measure. Even when the by the numbers bond forms between the two (a chat in a diner here, a heartfelt goodnight there), you can’t help but feel the warmth. That being said, it almost feels wasted given that this relationship could’ve had more space to breath, and highlight an element to the story that so clearly crucial, but instead is gingerly handled to the point it feels almost redundant.
There are some other positives that distract from the predictable plot unfolding in Palmer, besides its leading pair. June Squibb as Palmer’s grandma, Viven, makes for a welcome addition that sets the tone and Palmer’s moral compass (as a lot of cinema grandmas do, and Juno Temple checks the box of another under-utilised element as Sam’s mother, Shelly, giving the perfect poor parenting model. That’s the consistent glaring element with Palmer and coincidentally the titular characters; like Timerblake’s worn down ex-con with good intentions, Palmer is a film that has a lot of potential but never gets the chance to show it, no matter how perfectly placed its heart might be.