A routine script survives by excellent leads.

Justin Timberlake is a virtuoso, who went from an NSYNC member to a professional singer and actor with a number of movies from “The Social Network” to “Inside Llewyn Davis.” His next movie is “Palmer,” just released on AppleTV+, and in it, he plays a former football player and ex-con named Eddie Palmer, who’s just been released on parole. He prefers to be called Palmer, for the record.

The movie, directed by Fisher Stevens, allows Timberlake to continue to expand his horizons on a formulaic script, which involves him taking care of a little boy. We’ve seen this formula before, and we’ll continue seeing it, and yet, at the same time, we really root for his character to make peace with himself. We never want him to go back in the hole again; we want him to redeem himself.

Palmer now resides with his Grandma Vivian (June Squibb), and is lucky enough to get a job as a school janitor. The old lady also babysits a little boy named Sam (Ryder Allen), who dresses like a girl. He has a hair clip in his hair, plays with dolls, wears stars on his shirts, has a unicorn backpack, and watches princess cartoons, much to Palmer’s disillusion. Then when his grandmother immediately passes away, and the boy’s junkie mother (Juno Temple) abandons him (her voice mails says: “I ain’t here right now, so leave a message. Or don’t. I don’t give a sh*t”), Palmer must take care of him.

As usual in this particular genre (“Manchester by the Sea,” “Paper Moon,” “Big Daddy,” etc.), the man gets annoyed by the boy, but then eventually, he warms up to him. There’s even a romance between Palmer and Sam’s kind teacher Maggie Hayes (Alisha Wainwright from “Shadowhunters”), who sees the good in him, despite his criminal record. And at times, he worries about Sam’s interest in girly activities, considering the fact that there are homophobic boys in his class. And it’s not just his classmates. But also the adults (like Dean Winters as his mother’s abusive boyfriend), as well.

“Palmer” starts off pretty easy with the ex-con returning home and trying to better himself, and then it becomes challenging once we get to the custody battle. I’ve already singled out Timberlake for giving an emotionally complex performance, but I should also praise Ryder Allen for being an impressive newcomer. He’s kind of a chubby kid, but unlike Terrence Little Gardenhigh in “Coffee & Kareem,” he portrays him with a sweetness and truth in him. These two actors are able to connect and win you over.

In terms of its custody battle, I was sort of reminded of another movie called “Black or White,” which was about a little girl being in the hands of the alcoholic but well-meaning Kevin Costner or her abusive father. Both these movies are neither original nor masterpieces, but they still work for all the right reasons. They’re both about a change of heart and mind, and they’re both led by great actors who provide real feelings.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Streaming on AppleTV+

Categories: Drama

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