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Sensitive direction and an intense performance from the star make a manipulative and sometimes challenging drama called Palmer well worth investing in despite some cliched plotting.

The 2021 Apple original release features Justin Timberlake in the title role, an ex-convict who returns to his hometown after 12 years and finds himself developing a relationship with the young son of drug addict named Sam, who wears makeup, plays with dolls, and more than anything wants to be a princess.

Screenwriter Cheryl Guerriero has penned what initially appears to be a story we've seen a million times...the ex-con trying to start his life over and cleverly blends it with a story of tolerance and bigotry which will make some viewers uncomfortable because the victim of the bigotry is a little boy and it's understandable to a point. There's something extremely squirm-worthy about watching a little boy struggling with his sexual identity. The situation is further saddened by the fact that young Sam doesn't know he's struggling.

Director Fisher Stevens offers a sensitive and sometimes intrusive eye into the lives of Palmer and Sam. An ex-con starting over is nothing new the screen and a large portion of Palmer's rehabilitation and its roadblocks are pretty predictable. It's the combination of watching a man trying to start over with a troubled child who doesn't know he's troubled is what gives the story its dash of originality. The first scene where Palmer sees Sam playing with dolls is so unsettling that we are actually surprised when these two eventually bond. Palmer's acceptance of something he really doesn't understand is a joy to watch.

Stevens employed first rate production values to this unusual story and a cast that serves the story. Timberlake proves to be a actor of substance in the complex title role...I especially love the beginning of Palmer's relationship with Sam where Palmer is truly embarrassed by the kid. Young Ryder Allen lights up the screen as Sam and there's a flashy performance by Juno Temple as Sam's messed up mom. A somewhat familiar story is provided some meat we really don't see coming.