REVIEW: ‘The Tender Bar’ Serves Up Life Lessons on Writing, Family, & Fatherhood

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the Tender Bar - But Why Tho

The Tender Bar is an Amazon Prime Original film directed by George Clooney and written by William Monahan, based on J.R. Moehringer’s memoir of the same name. The film follows a young Moehringer (Daniel Ranieri) as he and his mother (Lily Rabe) travel to Long Island to live with his grandfather (Christopher Lloyd). With his father (Max Martini)-a popular radio host known as “The Voice”-absent from his life, young JR turns to his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) for guidance, both as an adolescent and when he eventually goes to Yale.

The trailers for the film have highlighted Affleck’s performance, and they were right to do so as he’s a major part of young JR’s life. When he’s not running his bar, The Dickens, Charlie is teaching his nephew about “the male sciences”-including a promise to always be honest with him, and to never hit a woman “even if she stabs you with scissors”. With his feathered hair and sideburns, polo shirts, and sunglasses, Affleck exudes “cool uncle” energy throughout the film-but most importantly serves as a father figure to JR in his own way. A pivotal scene comes where Charlie tells JR what it takes to be a writer. “In life, you’ve gotta have it. If you don’t have it, you’ll never get it. And I say you got it.” Affleck’s best roles have him finding the raw, unyielding humanity in his characters, whether it’s Ollie Trinké in Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl or Douglas “Doug” MacRay in The Town. The “gotta have it” scene shows that he took the same approach to Uncle Charlie and adds even more emotional weight to the film.

Ranieri, who makes his film debut with The Tender Bar, is also a delight to watch. As a young JR, he is curious about nearly everything; this leads to his eventual desire to become a writer. Raineri also has a scene where he engages in a verbal back and forth with his 21-year-old self, played by Tye Sheridan; seeing the two argue over their career is equal parts hilarious and sobering. And he navigates his family dysfunction with ease, although it would help if said dysfunction was shown more often; JR says his mother and grandfather have a contentious relationship but it doesn’t amount to much more than a shouting match or two.

In contrast, Sheridan’s performance leads much to be desired. Sheridan rose to prominence due to blockbusters like Ready Player One and X-Men: Apocalypse; however, he usually turned out to be the least compelling thing about those movies. That tradition continues here, as his rather bland performance fails to add spark to scenes like JR declaring himself a writer or carrying on a doomed relationship with fellow Yale student Sidney (Briana Middleton). Sheridan fares slightly better when he’s in scenes with Affleck, but those are sadly few and far between.

That isn’t the fault of Clooney, who helms The Tender Bar with a steady hand. Clooney’s resume as a director has been rather erratic; for every Confessions of a Dangerous Minds or Good Night, And Good Luck there’s a Suburbicon. Thankfully, Tender Bar is more in line with his prior directorial effort The Midnight Sky, as it takes more of a slow character-based approach.  And in perhaps the biggest departure from his previous directorial efforts, Clooney stays behind the camera as both director and producer, which is a decision that I feel was for the best as his presence could have drawn away from the other actors or even worse, could have come off as feeling too self-indulgent.

The Tender Bar puts its own witty spin on the classic coming of age story and features what may be one of the best performances of Ben Affleck’s career. It’s the type of “Dad Movie” that’s become a yearly occurrence with films such as Ford V. Ferrari; this genre seems to be one that Clooney excels at.

The Tender Bar is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.


The Tender Bar
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

The Tender Bar puts its own witty spin on the classic coming of age story and features what may be one of the best performances of Ben Affleck’s career. It’s the type of “Dad Movie” that’s become a yearly occurrence with films such as Ford V. Ferrari; this genre seems to be one that Clooney excels at.

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