MOVIE REVIEW: “The Tender Bar” stars Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One, Mud), Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, Good Will Hunting), Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe (Miss Stevens, No Reservations), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, Clue ), Max Martini (13 Hours, Captain Phillips), Rhenzy Feliz (Runaways [TV series], Encanto), Briana Middleton (Augustus, Sharper), Max Casella (Jackie, Inside Llewyn Davis), Sondra James (Joker, Sick of It [TV series]), Michael Braun (The Affair [TV series], Succession [TV series]), Matthew Delamater (Castle Rock [TV series], Daddy’s Home 2), and Ivan Leung (All American [TV series], Grey’s Anatomy [TV series]). It is directed by George Clooney (The Monuments Men, The Midnight Sky) and written by William Monahan (The Departed , Body of Lies).
Based on a memoir, a young boy growing up on Long Island desires to be a writer, but struggles personally with an absent father and dysfunctional family.
I’ve had an Amazon Prime account for about a year now, and I haven’t really done much besides order items. It’s about time I dip into their film catalogue. The first? George Clooney’s “The Tender Bar.”
Set in the late 70’s and documenting through the 80’s, this small feature is based on the memoir of one J.R. Moehringer as he navigates a rather interesting childhood into adulthood. His father is absent; a radio disc jockey known as “The Voice” (Martini). Growing up, J.R. surrounds himself with quite a few father figures, the primary of which being his Uncle Charlie, played by Ben Affleck. Affleck is the best part of this film, hands down. His character is lovable and endearing; a guy who doesn’t take crap from anyone, and is one of the coolest uncles around. Watching J.R. interact with him both as a kid and adult make for the heart of this movie, despite the extra life stuff that takes place.
For me, there’s a lot to enjoy with this flick. The setting is one I gravitate toward. Long Island in the 70’s makes for beautiful scenery (albeit a rough neighborhood), and the music that Clooney pumps through the frame makes me melt. It’s my kind of vibe, and I grooved along throughout a majority of the picture. What this kid has to endure (and amount to) kept me engaged, and the tone set forth by Clooney and his team made for a nice evening. Not to mention the performances, all of which were pretty solid. It’s good to get some fresh faces every now and then, and there’s plenty to observe. Tye Sheridan holds his own, Affleck shines, Christopher Lloyd entertains, Lily Rabe endears, and newcomer Daniel Ranieri does a bang-up job.
Coming-of-age tales can be tough to execute. Of course, our main character has to be interesting enough, and the man that is J.R. is… something. His circumstances in life are notable, primarily with his dad. Since his mom cut his dad out of his life, all J.R. knew of him was his voice, which came through the radio. It’s a cool element, which soon fades as his father becomes a more present person. Seeing life through a kid’s eyes can prove for great storytelling, and I loved almost all of the moments of little J.R. taking advice from his Uncle Charlie and struggling mother (Rabe). The bar Charlie owns is great, and the sequence of him taking J.R. to pick up his friends for bowling is quite memorable. It’s this innocence in a fun setting that makes it appealing to me.
As we transition to J.R. as an adult, things become… less fun. Sheridan does a good job, but the execution of his trials as a college student doesn’t fair as well as the childhood. There’s romance, broken hearts, shattered dreams, and closure to be had. All of which can be good, but I didn’t care for it as much. His on-again-off-again relationship with this one girl wasn’t all too interesting. It was clear from the start what her intentions were, and to see J.R. go through the trouble of trying to get her back multiple times just made things drag. The true meat of his story resides with his horrible dad. Everything else is pretty secondary. But as the second act carries on into the third, the structure gets laisez-fare, making me not as compelled.
Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, “The Tender Bar” is a wonderful, endearing feature with a strong performance by Affleck and a great setting. It’s only as it moves along into the second half that things become less interesting. If they kept it as a story about kid J.R., I would’ve been more engaged; there’s a point to following him into adulthood (specifically with the issue he had to overcome regarding daddy dearest), but it could’ve been handled better. Toss out the girl. That is all. Besides all that, I’d recommend “The Tender Bar.” It’s something different, and makes for a fun night (for the most part). FINAL SCORE: 87%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: