The Tender Bar (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – A boy growing up on Long Island seeks out father figures among the patrons at his uncle’s bar.

My Take – I am huge fan of George Clooney the movie star, who even atrocities like Batman & Robin (1997) can hold the viewers’ attention with his dynamic screen presence, charm and aura. However, as a filmmaker, with the exception of his first two films, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) and Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005), his filmography has been mostly littered with standard affairs.

Something which doesn’t change much in his latest which sees him adapt Pulitzer-winning journalist J. R. Moehringer‘s 2005 memoir in the form of a pleasant coming of age tale but is also utterly straightforward, a bit conventional and doesn’t stray away from the formula at all. Failing to capitalize on any other elements that could have provided it a boost.

However, the film does offer a surprisingly interesting turn from Ben Affleck, who in a supporting role delivers yet another superb performance following The Last Duel (2021) and The Way Back (2020). It makes sense to see Affleck and Clooney collaborating, as both became filmmakers to get away from their highly publicized public images and to bring their passion projects to light, hopefully the next time they work together they will also employ a better script to go with.

Narrated by a future version of himself (Ron Livingston), the story follows J.R. (Daniel Ranieri), an 11-year-old boy who along with his divorced and broke mother Dorothy (Lily Rabe) are forced to relocate into the house of her inconspicuous father (Christopher Llyod) and mother (Sondra James). While J.R. does not find a whole lot of solace among the extended family, but a nearby bar, called The Dickens, run by his beloved uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) becomes his sanctuary.

Kind and gentle, but not coddling like his mother, Charlie along with a few regulars at the bar dispense some rough-edged wisdom to the boy, eventually molding him into a young man (Tye Sheridan), who gets accepted to Yale to study law and fulfill his mom’s dreams, all the while making his way in the wilds of professional writing.

Bouncing between J.R’s childhood at the bar, his struggles to become a journalist as a grown-up and his recurring on-off relationship with the philandering Sidney (Briana Middleton), the film is made competently enough. It’s all pretty standard stuff in regards to coming-of-age memoir films. It never employs a cause and effect motion stirring for any of the characters.

No real drastic change really occurs at any point and there isn’t a grand existential crisis solved, other than J.R. realizing that his absent father ‘The Voice’ on the radio (Max Martini) is an alcoholic scoundrel. But despite its potentially heavy themes like daddy issues, the scripts treats most of what’s happening as insubstantial.

It is as though director Clooney was on the fence as to where to keep the film and then steers it towards utterly feel-good territory, instead of including darker elements that would have made it a bit more compelling. In what seems like chapters, J.R.’s life is treated in a realistic and less dramatic undertone, where not everything tends to work out. The material with Uncle Charlie is no doubt the most entertaining, helped along by a terrifically natural, lived-in performance from Ben Affleck.

In a pretty meaty role for somebody who is not a lead Affleck is excellent in the film. The best scenes in the movie are invariably those that include him. There is a lot of wit and charisma packed into the character and it was always a treat when he gets to share screen time with Sheridan or Ranieri. Tye Sheridan is absolutely fantastic in this film, Daniel Ranieri in his acting debut shows considerable screen presence and Ron Livingston assures in the older version.

In supporting roles, Lily Rabe does a decent job as J.R.’s hardworking mom, Christopher Lloyd is delightful as always as the cranky, ornery old grandpa, Rhenzy Feliz as J.R.’s Yale mate Wesley is a crackling presence, and Max Martini is effectively despicable as J.R.’s errant dad.

In smaller roles, Bill Meleady, Max Casella, Michael Braun and Matthew Delameter, are a hoot to watch. On the whole, ‘The Tender Bar’ is a standard coming of age tale anchored by a terrific Ben Affleck performance.

Directed – 

Starring – Ben Affleck, Lily Rabe, Tye Sheridan

Rated – R

Run Time – 106 minutes

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