Film Review: Palmer (2021)
Palmer struggles against two sets of clichés - of its story and of its location.
In the trailer review of Palmer, that Abha Dhyani wrote for this site, the possibility of this being refreshing because of a gender-fluid character. And to an extent, it is.
Palmer's biggest virtue is in its treatment of the little boy who is too effeminate for the burly South that he is living in to accept. His situation is presented with reasonable respect without making him a laughing stock for the audience. Added to this, his relationship with Palmer (Justin Timberlake) is almost subtle with both actors sharing a natural, sweet rapport.
Sadly, this makes the film even more disappointing.
Palmer comes back from a 12-year stint in prison for breaking & entering and robbery to his old town. He starts living with his grandmother Vivian (June Squib) and is determined to find an honest living. after being turned down several times, he finds a job as a janitor at a school.
Near his house is a trailer where Sam (Ryder Allen), the aforementioned kid lives in a trailer with his mother Shelly (Juno Temple). She is intermittently visited by her violent boyfriend Jerry (Dean Winters) - and both these characters conveniently appear and vanish as per the demands of the story beats.
Palmer's character born in the same town is supposedly more sensitive and decent simply because he went to jail and had a sporting career that stopped short due to an injury (another small town cliche).
This is the story of a man who returns from prison who is trying to get straight but circumstances force him to break the law again the type of thriller that we have seen many times. The film does not bother to deal with any of these tropes differently. But as if that was not enough, it's setting in the South offers another set of cliches that it has to contend with. There are knuckleheads hanging in the bars, needless to say, they are racist, violent, and bigots. The character of Shelly is a typical drug-addled failure found in such films that have no background story. Jerry's is even worst. In fact, everything here seems destined to die, disappear, have a change of heart, and die at the behest of the three-act structure. Even Palmer's love interest Maggie, a sympathetic teacher at the local school which Sam attends, is sketchy at best.
Timberlake appears sincere but this is not the script that brings out his nuances as an actor if he has any. The star of the show, so to speak, is Ryder Allen. HIs Sam is genuinely sweet. These interactions lend a certain honesty to the proceedings.
I really wanted to like this film as it had one potentially strong facet going for it - the chemistry between Palmer and Sam but even that is swallowed by the pageant of predictabilities on display here.