Throughout the last five years or so, we’ve had a slew of films come out tackling the ideas of gender conformity and norms when it comes to kids. It’s a discussion that many have deemed “heavy” probably due to a fear of their children actually exiting the societal boundaries of what boys should play with and act like, as well as girls. The truth is, this shouldn’t be a scary or taboo conversation. It’s 2021, I think we’ve moved past the stigma that Barbies and princesses are limited to young women, and it seems sort of insulting to limit girls to those as well.
Palmer is here to showcase the story of a young boy named Sam, a fairly flamboyant kid who enjoys fairies, princesses and has his own hand me down collection of Barbies. Coming from a troubled home with his drug addicted mother, Sam is taken in by our protagonist Eddie Palmer; an ex-convict who just so happens to be his neighbour. The two form a not so instant and rocky bond that tests what Palmer has always deemed socially acceptable. With the film taking place somewhere in the south, it feels realistic to have a fair amount of characters who check all the boxes for old school values. Meaning that this quaint small and very religious town isn’t necessarily caught up with our current progressive views to say the least. Palmer himself even admits at first that he doesn’t agree with how young Sam acts and carries himself but that’s clearly due to a lack of exposure to what is deemed “different”.
The thing with small towns and how unexposed they can be to anything other than what they’re used to, is that there isn’t always any real inherent harm being deliberately done. Now, the states are sort of a different story but when I think back to my hometown, I have a lot of love for it and a lot of love for the people. As much as it’s become a more accepting place and has grown a lot, it wasn’t always like that. I remember during my senior year of high school, a group of students raised money to fly a pride flag during pride month, only for some assholes to rip it down and burn it. When it was talked about, I could hear some people in my class laughing or trying to contain their laughter which obviously made me nervous due to the fact that I was a closeted gay teenager. Although the reaction made me sick then, I know that wouldn’t be the overall reaction now. I’m only really saying this with hope that it wouldn’t be the same, but I truly believe more people than not would see the evil in this act and know how horrifying it is. I choose to believe most of my peers were disgusted then but I know there would be a lot more outrage now and that’s growth.
The way we watch a small minded man grow into someone who can love and accept a child for who they are is always a pleasant thing to witness on screen, and even more so in reality. Not everyone in this movie and this town is as small minded as most the men are and I like to think that’s the reality for more small towns nowadays. But if I’m being honest, I feel extremely mixed about this film. It’s a sweet story that means well, but doesn’t really scratch deeper than the surface. It all seems very, let’s celebrate this man for doing the bare minimum, taking in and caring for this flamboyant and basically orphaned child without him really having to do much. It’s all a very nice sentiment that doesn’t really have much build up. One minute he refuses to give Sam barely any attention and the next he loves him? It’s sweet and touching but I would have loved to see a more organic growth between Palmer and Sam. Even more than that I would have liked to see a lot more of Sam’s perspective and what a young child, who so confidently and unapologetically knows themselves, goes through on a daily basis other than one mean bully and old bigot men.
When it comes to the performances, they’re good. Not great, but everyone delivers the best they can with the script they were given. The script isn’t bad either, it’s just so on the nose at times that it can take you out of the experience. That’s sort of what this film is, good but not great. Justin Timberlake who plays the titular lead does a fine job but it’s just not really a role that asks much of him. An ex-convict from a small town takes in a young feminine boy; there’s so many places to go with that and so much that could have been done with Palmer, but they never really get into the nitty gritty parts of him. It’s Ryder Allen in his debut role as Sam who shines for the most part. His chemistry with Timberlake is definitely carried on his back due to how outgoing and charismatic he was; so props to him for holding his own against a known actor.
Palmer will definitely be a crowd pleaser for mainstream audiences. It’s an adorable tale of redemption led by two admirable performances, and a sweet ending that’ll have you not only smiling, but maybe even shedding a few tears. As easy as it was to critique its flaws, it was even easier to enjoy.