The Tender Bar movie review: a cliché coming-of-age movie, (kinda) saved by Ben Affleck

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The director of the film The tender bar: George clooney
The cast of the movie Tender Bar: Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe and Christopher Lloyd
Rating of the movie The Tender Bar: 2 stars

The Tender Bar is a coming-of-age movie about a man who, for all intents and purposes, grew up in a bar. Based on a 2005 memoir by author and journalist JR Moehringer, the film is directed by George Clooney and scripted by William Monahan.

The man in question, played as a young boy by Daniel Ranieri and as an adult by Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One), is growing up with an absent father. Her loving mother Dorothy (Lily Rabe) must return to her father’s house on Long Island to give him financial support and a chance to lead a successful life that she never had.

JR does not find much comfort among the extended family. There is too much chaos. It is the neighboring titular bar, called The Dickens, named after the legendary English author, which becomes JR’s sanctuary. It is run by his beloved uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck). Kind and gentle, but not pampering like his mother, he and a few bar regulars impart rude wisdom to the boy, ultimately transforming him into the man he is becoming. Charlie serves as a substitute father.

And a good thing too, because his biological father (Max Martini) is a violent bully with a drinking problem that he never recognizes. We are never told what happened between him and JR’s mother, but we can guess.

His weak attempts at parenting every now and then delight young JR, however, and he cherishes those rare conversations. But for most of his life, his father was only The Voice. It’s a sad and ironic nickname, as he works as a radio disc jockey at a station in New York City, and JR tunes in whenever he tries to form that ever-elusive emotional bond.

The highlight of The Tender Bar is Ben Affleck as Uncle Charlie. Affleck has previously expressed his disillusionment with big IP roles like Batman, the preparation involved, and the unreasonable fan expectations that accompany him. In The Tender Bar, he seems to be back doing what he does and is clearly having fun. It’s a pretty meaty role for someone who isn’t a leader. The best scenes in the movie are invariably the ones that include it. The performances are also good overall, although Sheridan seems oddly detached from the proceedings. It’s hard to tell if that’s him or if the script needed a straight face.

Sadly, the rest of the movie doesn’t have as much of an impact. It’s not completely impossible to watch, but you need to lower your expectations a notch and then a bit more.

Even then, you might be surprised at how much the movie doesn’t affect you. Despite its (potentially) heavy themes, the scripts treat most of what happens as trivial. It’s like Clooney doesn’t know where to keep the movie – point it into feel-good territory or include some darker elements that would’ve made it a bit more compelling. The result is a tonal disorder.

This scribe admits his ignorance of the source material, but judging only from the script, the story itself seems too light-hearted to warrant a film adaptation. Even the moments that should change JR’s life are treated with an impartial air. These are supposedly true events, but there is nothing in this that we haven’t seen before in coming of age stories. A decent script would have lent a bit of weight.

As it stands, the film is difficult to recommend.

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