Many musicians have found success in film — Mark Wahlberg, Cher, Will Smith — and though Justin Timberlake has been kicking around the silver screen for more than 15 years, his latest offering, Palmer, truly feels like his big break.

The film follows an ex-convict, fresh out of prison after a stint for a violent crime, who ends up caring for the young boy living next door when his addict mother abandons him. After more than a decade in prison, Palmer is quiet and unassuming. He wants to move on with his life, and gets a quiet job as a janitor at the boy’s school.

Young Sam is different from other boys his age — and he doesn’t receive much support from those around him for it. He prefers princesses to more masculine figures, and his wardrobe and sensibilities are what some would call ‘feminine’. He is relentlessly teased and bullied by others, but the best thing about Sam’s character is he’s resilient. He is unabashedly himself, no matter what anyone says.

While Palmer — insensitive to the boy’s needs — initially tries to change Sam, there’s a shift in character as he realizes he’s learning more about strength from Sam than he ever thought possible.

Palmer is a quietly affecting film about toxic masculinity, the need to let children choose how they want to dress, act and live their lives, and the importance of living a life free of judgment of others.

Perhaps the best thing about Timberlake’s performance is how understated it is. Given his crime, he could have easily been an off-the-handle hot-head character, and yet, we’re given a sensitivity within Palmer that allows us to root for him.

Timberlake first impressed in Alpha Dog, where he played an accomplice in the murder of a teenage boy. That film featured an explosive, incredible turn from the musician. We had to wait 15 years for him to showcase himself again, but it’s well worth it.

However, it’s worth pointing out that this poignant film that deals with major LGBTQ2S+ issues around adolescence doesn’t reach the same heights without the bravura turn from Ryder Allen as Sam. Timberlake and Allen are wonderful together, and Allen lights up every scene.

Also featuring turns from June Squibb, Alisha Wainwright and an unrecognizable Juno Temple as Sam’s wayward mother, this is a drama that’s hard to watch, but one you won’t soon forget.

It sometimes borders on Lifetime territory, but it’s saved by the ensemble cast, mainly its pint-sized co-star. If Palmer is a sign of things to come for Ryder Allen, the actor has an intense career ahead, and I just hope Timberlake doesn’t wait another decade to give us the vulnerability he puts on display in this beautiful little gem.

Available now on Apple-TV

4/5 Stars

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About the Author

Jordan Parker is a freelance entertainment journalist with more than a decade in the business. An avid filmgoer, his favourite movie is Fight Club, but he has a soft spot for rom-coms. A proud queer communicator, he also runs film and TV firm Parker PR.