Synopsis: After 12 years in prison, former high school football star Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) returns home to put his life back together and forms an unlikely bond with Sam (Ryder Allen), an outcast boy from a troubled home. But Eddie’s past threatens to ruin his new life and family.
Amidst a myriad of competing streamers, AppleTV+ continues to establish a strong foundation for the years ahead. Their wise valuing of star-studded quality over quantity generated several successful TV shows (Ted Lasso) and films (On the Rocks) over their sturdy inaugural year. The latest in their original content library Palmer desperately reaches for heart-tugging drama within its Middle American premise. Director Fisher Stevens crafts a passable-enough melodrama, but his relatively saccharine effort barely registers an impression.
Instead of striking an authentic chord, Palmer mostly settles for Hollywood posturing. There are avenues for Cheryl Guerriero’s script to explore universally American sentiments, including ex-convicts’ struggles for redemption and the misunderstanding of gender fluidity in backward communities. These worthwhile conflicts are implemented with surface-level truths, leaving a more intimate story in the dusk for crowd-pleasing bait (Sam’s identity serves as a plot device more than a meaningfully explored character dynamic).
It doesn’t help that Stevens’ director-for-hire hand doesn’t realize the film’s quaint strengths. For a personal drama, there’s rarely time to stew with the character’s internal developments. Almost every scene drowns itself in obvious music choices, overbaking potentially-sentimental moments into maudlin mishaps. Combined with the relatively heavy-handed dramatic mechanics (Juno Temple’s talents are wasted playing a caricature of a junkie), Palmer’s tireless attempts to elicit emotion grow tiresome as the inauthentic frames add up.
It’s a frustrating misfire considering the film’s promising nucleus. Justin Timberlake and Ryder Allen are an affectionate pair as two disenfranchised souls seeking solace in each other’s company. For Timberlake, his ability to balance expressive emotions with radiating charisma morphs Palmer into an earnest everyman-type. Allen also deserves praise in his film debut, as the young actor skillfully portrays Sam’s enduring glow amidst troubling circumstances. The duo’s well-tuned frequency will leave most wishing they were serviced with a better movie.
Palmer is affable-enough to draw some fans, but its largely inauthentic delivery rang with a lingering hollowness for me.