by George Wolf
Palmer has Justin Timberlake, an adorable little kid and a heartwarming message. Heck, it’s not much more than some sexytime and a few beers away from being an afterschool special.
Yes, you can guess where it’s going. No, you will not be sorry for the trip.
J.T. is Eddie, who prefers you just call him by his last name. He was once a hot shot Louisiana high school quarterback with a scholarship to LSU. But after injuries ended Palmer’s career early, his quick temper got him sent away for 12 long on attempted murder.
But he’s served his time, so now Palmer has come back to his small, “church and football” hometown to move in with Grandma Vivian (June Squibb). Once there, it doesn’t take Palmer long to notice Shelly, the trailer train-wreck next door (Juno Temple).
Shelly leaves town a lot, and when she does, her son Sam (Ryder Allen in a perfectly lovable debut) stays with Viv. Sam doesn’t like football. Sam likes princesses, having tea parties, and dressing up in costumes that come with wings and tiaras.
Director Fisher Stevens fleshes out Cheryl Guerriero’s script with a fine instinct for knowing we don’t need to be led by the nose. There will be bonding, bullies beaten down and lessons learned, plus Sam’s pretty teacher (Alisha Wainwright) is single, so, you know.
Timberlake is gritty and finely understated, letting Palmer’s feelings for Sam unveil themselves with a gradual, and ultimately authentic depth. Palmer has scars from his childhood, too, but as expected as his kinship with Sam is, it seldom feels mawkish.
And Allen, well this kid just skips away with the movie tucked inside his glittery backpack. When Palmer tells Sam there are no boys on his favorite TV show and Sam confidently responds that he will be the first, all the hate that the world throws at kids like Sam seems – if only for a moment – miles away.
There is contrivance and familiarity at work in Palmer, no doubt. But there’s also enough heart, and pure hopeful innocence, to earn this film some wings.