Palmer, Justin Timberlake's film on Apple TV+, is an uninspired narrative on masculinity

Justin Timberlake's prosaic masculine melodrama, Palmer, fails to evoke any sensitivity

The New York Times January 30, 2021 12:57:14 IST
Palmer, Justin Timberlake's film on Apple TV+, is an uninspired narrative on masculinity

Still from Palmer. Image from Twitter

Like a bad egg set to boil, a rugged ex-convict softens and then cracks in the pallid drama Palmer. The film, streaming on Apple TV+, opens with its stoic protagonist returning home to rural Louisiana after serving a 12-year prison sentence. Palmer (Justin Timberlake) hits the bar and carouses with buddies, but his townie itinerary changes when he finds himself saddled with caring for Sam (Ryder Allen), the cherubic child of a neglectful neighbour.

Sam enjoys playing with femininity; he tries on lipstick, adores dolls and, on Halloween, asks to dress up as a fairy princess. Though he’s bullied at school, Sam is an assured, easygoing kid. But to Palmer, a former high school quarterback, Sam “ain’t like other boys” and will have a hard go at life unless he learns to abide by the macho agenda.

If Palmer had emerged as Sam’s story, this formulaic film might have found its footing following a mould-breaking character down familiar country roads. Instead, director Fisher Stevens hews closely to Palmer, a tough guy with a sensitive side who punches people when he feels feelings. The women pose more tiresome clichés; they are either churchgoing or, in the case of the story’s love interest (Alisha Wainwright), an empathic vessel for Palmer’s pent-up emotion.

But the movie’s most frustrating revelation comes near the end, when it has the gall to correlate Sam’s nonconformity with Palmer’s outsider status. “I’m different, that’s for sure,” Palmer replies, when Sam asks if Palmer is queer — a word he learned from his mom’s brutal boyfriend. That Palmer eventually embraces Sam as an ally in misfitdom is inevitable. So is the annoyance inspired by this prosaic masculine melodrama.

Palmer streams on Apple TV+.

Natalia Winkelman c.2021 The New York Times Company

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