A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Palmer is an emotional, mature drama about a formerly incarcerated man named Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) who becomes friends with a gender-nonconforming child. It's familiar material, but the movie is compassionate and made with empathy, care, and positive representation. Expect to see disturbing scenes of domestic abuse: A man puts his hands on a woman's throat, shoves a young child across a room, and makes threats. There are also scenes of fighting, with mildly bloody wounds, and some hate speech by negatively portrayed characters. Palmer kisses and has sex with two different women; the first is a brief encounter, and the second is much more meaningful. The first scene includes thrusting, moaning, and a woman's partly naked bottom. Language comes in strong bursts, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Characters smoke very frequently, and there are several scenes of drinking in a bar, sometimes to excess. Major characters are also habitual drug users.
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What's the story?
In PALMER, Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) has just been released from prison on parole. A former high school football star, he made some poor decisions but is now returning to his small Louisiana hometown to start fresh. He shows up at the home of his grandmother, Vivian (June Squibb), who makes him go to church, and he soon lands a job as a school janitor. Living across from Vivian are the troubled Shelly (Juno Temple), her abusive boyfriend, and her sweet child, Sam (Ryder Allen). Shelly suddenly takes off, and Vivian starts looking after Sam. But then Palmer finds himself in charge of Sam, who's gender nonconforming. The two have a rocky start, but they grow closer, and Palmer eventually realizes that he'd like to be Sam's guardian. But what will happen when Shelly returns?
Is it any good?
It's familiar material, but Fisher Stevens' fine drama proceeds with care and compassion, using excellent performances to help create a moving, thoughtful, and inclusive experience. There have been dozens of movies about plucky kids who help grumpy adults become better people -- from Charlie Chaplin's The Kid to Driveways -- but Palmer does the old chestnut proud. Timberlake's Palmer appears to be shielding himself against pain, with his jaw jutted out. But he's also full of regret and gratitude and willing to do whatever it takes to become a better person. His first scene with Squibb effortlessly draws smiles and sets the movie's tone.
Young Allen (8 years old at the time of the movie's release) makes his feature film acting debut with absolute confidence and openness, quickly creating a believable bond with Timberlake. He carries Sam's gender identity with beautiful grace and empathy. The rest of the cast is also impressive; there's not a weak link anywhere. Director Stevens is, of course, a veteran character actor himself (perhaps best known for Short Circuit), as well as an Oscar winner (for producing the documentary The Cove), and he clearly brings his long experience to Palmer. He creates a vivid, logical small-town environment, where things may be a little grayish and stuck, but they're not without hope.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Palmer depicts drinking, smoking, and drug use. Are they glamorized? Do characters take pleasure in these things, or are they more to numb the pain? Are there consequences for using? Why does that matter?
How is sex portrayed? What's the difference between the two main sex scenes?
How does the movie portray people of color and those who are gender nonconforming? Why is representation in the media important?
- On DVD or streaming: January 29, 2021
- Cast: Justin Timberlake, Alisha Wainwright, Juno Temple, Ryder Allen
- Director: Fisher Stevens
- Studio: Apple TV+
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, some sexual content/nudity and brief violence
- Last updated: March 19, 2021
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