Coming to Apple TV+ on January 29, feature-length offering Palmer is no exception.
Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Fisher Stevens, best known for his on-screen roles in Damages and Succession, Palmer tells the tale of one man’s fall from grace and the journey that arises as he attempts to rebuild his life.
“I wanted to do something that was small, intimate, personal and emotional and something that I could make for a lower budget that I could call the shots and get my people around me,” says Stevens, 57, of the project.
“There was something about the authenticity of the script and I felt like I could bring the authenticity of making a documentary to this story.”
Set in Louisiana, in the heart of America’s Deep South, convicted felon Eddie Palmer, played by Justin Timberlake, returns to live with Vivian, the grandmother who raised him, after being released following a 12-year prison sentence.
Readjusting to the freedoms of the outside world, Palmer attempts to get his life back on track in spite of ongoing judgment from the local small-town community and living in the constant shadow of his former glory days as a star footballer.
“Justin said he grew up with people that were star athletes that ended up just falling from grace,” continues Stevens.
“That whole notion of second chances was so attractive to us to shed light on and he loved that element of it.”
The story, however, takes a turn when Vivian’s neighbour Shelly, played by Juno Temple, abandons her seven-year-old son in favour of drugs, leaving Palmer temporarily charged with the child’s care.
Every inch a tale of discovery, Palmer finds his outlook challenged by seven-year-old Sam, played by Ryder Allen, who suffers at the hands of bullies for his effeminate pastimes.
“[Justin and I] both have young sons and I don’t think that we could have made this film before we had children,” asserts Stevens.
“I read the script right after Trump was elected and I thought ‘I don’t know America. I don’t know my country. I need to get out of my bubble’ – and this is a great way to do that.
“This boy is in the heart of red state Trump’s America and I thought ‘this is an amazing juxtaposition’.
“I related to it – my nephew, Max, at seven, was very much like Sam, playing with dolls, wearing dresses, only having girlfriends.
“He was one of the greatest kids I’ve ever met and I thought, wow, thank God my sister and her husband were so supportive.”
However, the initial stages of the project were anything but straightforward, as Stevens elaborates.
“It wasn’t easy getting this made but it was worth it,” he says.
“We had a false start about a year earlier. We didn’t sign anybody but we had a couple of people in mind and it fell apart.
“It wasn’t until I was making a documentary with Leonardo DiCaprio and his manager read the script and suggested Justin and I was like, ‘perfect!’.
“He’s from the south, he knows this world. And anyway, then it took a little while; he was on tour and I had to kind of talk to him between cities and work on the script with him a little bit.
“Once Justin got on board it was all systems go.”
Originally hailing from the state of Tennessee, Timberlake, 39, is no stranger to the big screen.
Having previously starred as entrepreneur Sean Parker in David Fincher’s The Social Network and lent his voice to the 2016 animated film Trolls, the combination of his southern upbringing, acting expertise and first-hand experience of fatherhood all played to his benefit during casting.
“As the father of a four-year-old boy, I got very emotional,” recalls Timberlake of the subject matter.
“Fisher and I spoke quite a bit about having young sons. That’s one of the reasons we both wanted to make this movie at this time.
“It just felt like a very special story, one that needed to be told, about the idea of redemption and acceptance and how love can break down some pretty sturdy barriers.”
A tale of transformation that comes as a result of both love and shared experience, Palmer’s on-screen transformation is both heartwarming and eye-opening for audiences.
“He returns home to find everything is different,” says Timberlake of his character.
“Once he accepts Sam for who he is, which isn’t easy for him, it becomes a story about two guys who don’t really fit in.
“My character sees that he can make a difference in this child’s life, and by doing that, he begins to heal his own.”
The central themes of mentorship and metamorphosis are as much a part of this film’s fabric as its depiction of judgment and scrutiny in 21st century America.
It’s a project that tackles traditionally held preconceptions surrounding gender identity head on – a subject that its director remains proud to have broached.
“Look, America almost went seriously backwards – whether you want to talk about race relations, whether you want to talk about any civil rights, gay rights. We were this far away from – I don’t even want to talk about it,” says Fisher with a sigh.
“It’s incredible that we’re still so judgmental as people, as humans.
“A beautiful thing in the script that I always loved is that his mother – who’s addicted to crystal meth, who’s a terrible mother, who disappears for weeks on end – the one thing she gave Sam was an incredible sense of self-esteem.
“She made him feel like it’s OK to be who you are. She gave that boy that strength.
“So, yeah, it is a movie about healing, it’s a movie about unity, it’s a movie about compassion.”
Palmer is available to stream on Apple TV+ from January 29.