WILLIS PETERSON won’t be winning 2021’s father-of-the-year award anytime soon. In Falling, the first of two recent family dramas that deal with fathers and gay (and/or gender-fluid) sons, Willis is played by Lance Henriksen, a veteran of such action film franchises as Terminator and Alien. In an early scene, a younger version of Willis whispers an apology to his newborn son John (still in his cradle) for bringing him into this Hobbesian world of struggle and suffering. This is a significant bit of foresight from a father who becomes a leviathan in his own right. Later, he blasts John with slurs like “fairy” and “fag.” Worse, he’s flatulent and extinguishes his cigarettes on the nightstand.
Palmer, a second family drama, is lighter and more entertaining than Falling, largely because of the surprising synergy between Justin Timberlake (in the role of Eddie Palmer) and eight-year-old wunderkind Ryder Allen. Timberlake—yes, the former boyband singer for ’N Sync is old enough to play a bearded daddy now—is a parolee with a heart of gold. Palmer takes after his bighearted grandmother Vivian (June Squibb), who feeds and sometimes houses Sam, the little boy next door when his mother Shelly (a terrific Juno Temple) is out scoring drugs. Keep in mind that Sam does not identify as a “boy,” and for this his classmates have pegged him as “Samantha.” If only every LGBT kid alive today came equipped with the bulletproof ego that Sam puts bravely on display! For pulling that off, his character is totally original. “There are no boys on that show. What does that tell you?” Palmer asks after he finds Sam engrossed in a cartoon featuring ponies and princesses. “So?” says Sam, “I can be the first!”
Colin Carman, PhD, assistant professor of English at Colorado Mesa University, is working on a book about Jane Austen.