Starring: Justin Timberlake, Ryder Allen, Alisha Wainwright, Juno Temple, June Squibb
Director: Fisher Stevens
There was a time when it seemed that Justin Timberlake was poised for movie stardom. The pop icon broke into the movie world with The Social Network, but his participation in the David Fincher awards juggernaut did not transfer to an illustrious career on the silver screen. But now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple Movies has released Palmer to a movie-hungry public that have been starved of cinema for the last twelve months, which means this Timberlake-fronted independent drama will get a far wider audience than it would have otherwise, or it would really have deserved.
Palmer (Timberlake – The Social Network, Trolls) has just been released from prison. He’s staying with his grandmother (Squibb – Nebraska, Good Girls) in her trailer, who lives next door to Sam (Allen), a flamboyant little boy, and his drug-addict mother (Temple – Atonement, Maleficent). The latter regularly disappears for long periods, which she does soon after Palmer arrives, but when the situation changes dramatically with his grandma’s health, the boy is left in the care of Palmer, who feels completely unequipped to become a father to him.
This is a film about social injustice. When we learn the reason why Palmer was incarcerated for twelve years, it begins to make sense why he does not want this innocent young boy to be entered into any system of government care. As he becomes more attached to the child, he is trying to make up for his own mistakes and the injustices dealt to him too.
Sam is a colourful little character, with an eccentric personality, who likes to dance and dress up and loves nothing more than princesses, tutus and tiaras. Though there is no explicit mention of his sexuality, it’s clear that everyone has acknowledged the fact that the child is LGBT+, even if it’s still only manifesting itself in childish ways. The reaction from his peers and wider community isn’t always positive, but there’s also plenty of support, both from his teacher (Wainwright) and the parents of some of the children. In reality, this is a fairly accurate portrayal of the division in America today, between right and left, prejudice and acceptance; all portrayed through society’s instincts toward a kid.
Its overriding narrative is Palmer’s transition into adulthood. He went to prison barely an adult, so having this responsibility laid upon his shoulders is all the more difficult because he doesn’t even know how to be an adult in the real world himself. Timberlake is perfectly adequate in the role, but it’s impossible to watch this without the distraction of his star persona, which is simply one of a big and gruff macho man. Timberlake is a metrosexual woke celebrity, so this role doesn’t really stick. If we were watching Pitbull or 50 Cent this might have worked better, but nobody really doubts that Timberlake is a jolly nice chap.
Ryder Allen gives an endearing breakthrough performance as Sam, but the film’s real standout is the terminally underrated Juno Temple, whose role as the mother is detestably grotesque and worthy of wider attention. Otherwise, this is a fairly nondescript drama about parenthood and poverty. It would feel a lot more authentic with a lead that hasn’t lived a privileged life in the spotlight for decades, but it does feature a highly effective portrayal of a LGBT+ child at its centre.
OUT NOW TO WATCH ON APPLE MOVIES.