Now Palmer’s story isn’t just his. When Sam comes to live with Vivian after his mother’s latest disappearance, Palmer first reluctantly accepts the new roommate who sleeps in their living room. He also tries to understand the little boy’s fascination with princesses and fairies, which a tough guy like him doesn’t seem to understand. But then what initially looks like a macho posture eventually becomes a concern. He doesn’t want Sam to be assaulted because he’s at school so often. Soon Palmer even begins to defend Sam against bullies of all sizes and kinds. His short temper and willingness to turn to reckless actions comes with consequences, but that’s nothing this soft-hearted drama cannot cope with in the end.
Despite its rough edges, Fisher Stevens’ “Palmer” is a sweet drama. It doesn’t go so deep into Palmer’s emotions or state of mind, but rather keeps them closely watched in Timberlake’s gruff performance. He’s perhaps almost too low-key, trying a Clint Eastwood poker face against the world, suspiciously eyeing most of the town except Vivian. Sometimes it’s hard to stay on board with such a distant character. And that’s where Sam comes in. He’s an absolute joy in the film’s saddest notes. Thanks to staging by Stevens and cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler, the film is more brilliant when Sam, his pink dresses and his fairy toys fight against Palmer’s dull outlook. Everything at the start of the film seems colorless and desperate. Even Vivian’s house feels darkened at times. But Sam is a counterweight, both in spirit and in presence.
Despite the many tensions at play in Cheryl Guerriero’s script, something about the movie doesn’t quite jump off the page. Maybe this is Palmer’s sweet but slightly staid romance with Sam’s teacher Maggie Hayes (Alisha Wainwright). Perhaps this is the all-brief role of Vivian, which robs audiences of the upright character of Squibb who berates her grandson for delaying them at church but refuses to apologize at first when she has. wrong. His dedication to his congregation plays a major role in the film, but feels like an afterthought.