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film review

Justin Timberlake stars as the title character, Palmer, a former high-school football star who is back home after serving time for attempted murder.APPLE TV+

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  • Palmer
  • Directed by Fisher Stevens
  • Written by Cheryl Guerriero
  • Starring Justin Timberlake, Ryder Allen and Juno Temple
  • Classification R; 110 minutes

Even though the 2021 (virtual) Sundance Film Festival doesn’t start until this weekend, Apple TV+ is already primed to deliver Palmer, a movie that would feel right at home nestled in Park City’s lineup of earnest low-stakes dramas about rural Americans learning to shake their demons and embrace the future, often aided by cute little kids.

Timberlake, Ryder Allen and June Squibb.APPLE TV+

Justin Timberlake, who is a decade later still chasing the cinematic high of 2010′s The Social Network, stars as the title character, a former high-school football star who is back home after serving time for attempted murder. Struggling to find work and under the watch of his religious grandmother (June Squibb), Palmer eventually finds his footing thanks to the precocious, fairy-tale princess-loving little boy next door, Sam (Ryder Allen). Add to the mix Sam’s drug-addicted mother (Juno Temple), her dirt-bag boyfriend (Dean Winters), and Sam’s kind, recently divorced grade-school teacher (Alisha Wainwright), and you can guess what it all equals out to.

Alisha Wainwright plays a recently divorced grade-school teacher.APPLE TV+

Will Palmer’s past be revealed as something less cold-blooded, and more noble? Will Sam find a caring guardian in his new neighbour? Will the past heal itself? A more layered, less-familiar screenplay might answer these questions unexpectedly or with some sense of narrative flair, but writer Cheryl Guerriero sticks to the classics, offering little surprise. The same steady-as-she-goes approach suits director Fisher Stevens, too – which is odd, since the filmmaker/character actor has also performed for enough interesting visionaries over the years to pick up a lesson or two.

Timberlake fares fine enough in his strong-and-mostly-silent role, displaying genuine chemistry with Wainwright (though let’s not bring in whatever the tabloids and gossip sites have to say about the matter). Allen is delightful in that refreshing way that only newcomers can be. And in terms of Apple TV+’s bid to become a more family-friendly competitor to Netflix, Palmer makes good, decent sense. But Timberlake is going to have to find a way back to filmmakers like David Fincher if he ever wants to make an actual go at this acting thing. Or there’s always Sundance 2022.

Palmer is available to stream on Apple TV+ starting Jan. 29.

In the interest of consistency, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s choice designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)