He survived The Love Guru. He was a scaredy-pants when Andrew Garfield nearly decked him in The Social Network. He voiced Boo Boo. And, more importantly, he brought Sexy Back. He can, quite literally, do anything can JT, aka Justin Timberlake, so stepping away from kaleidoscopic, musically-gifted Trolls and the rest, the artist turned actor takes a dive into something decidedly more adult. Easy all, that’s not quite what we meant (even if, within 10 minutes, it is what we meant). Mature is maybe a better choice of words for his latest effort, a melancholic, touching if horribly clichéd drama that showcases a side to him we haven’t really seen before. He soars, but the film can’t quite keep up.
Timberlake is the titular Palmer, a former small-town college football star whose temper gets the better of him, not least one fateful day years ago that sent to jail. Now released early for good behaviour, he heads back to his grandmother (the delightful but under-served June Squibb) and his old haunts. He soon bonds with both Sam (Ryder Allen), a young boy who his grandmother looks after and, despite his drug-riddled lifestyle of his mother (Juno Temple) who lives next door, enjoys life very much. Through him, Palmer falls for his teacher Maggie (Alisha Wainwright) but their relationship, and his reintegration into the small town, won’t be easy.
So far, so predictable and that is precisely the biggest problem holding Palmer back from breaking free from the usual glut of tropes and clichés that saturate it so very much. Director Fisher Stevens tries hard to shake off its constraints but such is the restrictive nature of such redemptive stories, told a thousand times before and a hundred times better, that even when it looks like it will try something different – namely with Sam and his refreshingly non-conforming nature that was primed for much better – it still falls flat. You can almost go through the checklist of such an endeavour and within the first half-hour, you’ve probably struck bingo.
That isn’t to say that it isn’t enjoyable whilst watching it, but so are day-old croissants: still delicious but appreciably not the same. Timberlake, however, deserves plaudits here for stepping out of his relative comfort zone to test himself and his audience with a richer, more detailed performance than just whipping the shirt off. If this is his chosen path from now on – with the odd sidestep now and again – then we can’t wait to see what’s next. Applause, too, for his supporting cast, with Allen the film’s star turn as the precious, thoughtful Sam. Big things are on his horizon.
While it does nothing new in its story, playing safe rather than bringing something new to the table (which is threatens to), Palmer is a decent distraction from all the madness on the outside world right now, with some lovely moments between Timberlake and Allen that is primed for a reunion in something more deserving of their talents.
Drama | USA, 2021 | 15 | Apple TV+ | 29th January 2021 | Dir.Fisher Stevens | Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, June Squibb, Alisha Wainwright, Ryder Allen