The Tender Bar | Movie Review

The Tender Bar movie review: It’s not that this Ben Affleck film is unwatchable. But, if you truly want to enjoy this one, lower your expectations, and then lower them some more.

George Clooney directed the film The Tender Bar.

Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe, and Christopher Lloyd star in the film Tender Bar.

The Tender Bar is a coming-of-age storey about a man who grew up, for all intents and purposes, in a bar. The film is directed by George Clooney and written by William Monahan, and is based on author and journalist JR Moehringer’s 2005 memoir of the same name.

The man in question, played by Daniel Ranieri as a small kid and Tye Sheridan as an adult in Ready Player One, grows up with an absentee father. Dorothy (Lily Rabe), his adoring mother, must return to her father’s Long Island home to provide him with financial support and a chance at a successful life she never had.

There is too much chaos. JR finds refuge in the nearby titular bar, The Dickens, named after the legendary English author Charles Dickens. It is run by his adoring uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck). Kind and gentle, but not coddling like his mother, he and a few regulars at the bar impart some rough-edged knowledge to the child, shaping him into the man he becomes. Charlie acts as a stand-in for the father.

That’s a good thing, because his biological father (Max Martini) is a nasty bully with an alcohol problem that he refuses to admit. We never learn what transpired between him and JR’s mother, but we can make educated guesses.

His poor attempts at parenting occasionally amuse little JR, and he treasures those rare chats. But for the most part of his existence, his father is simply The Voice. It’s a tragic and witty moniker, because he works as a radio disc jockey in a New York station, and JR tuned in anytime he’s trying to form that elusive emotional connection.

Ben Affleck’s performance as Uncle Charlie in The Tender Bar is the film’s high point. Affleck has previously expressed dissatisfaction with big IP roles like Batman, the preparation required, and the unrealistic fan expectations that come with them. He appears to be back doing what he does in The Tender Bar, and he appears to be having a good time. It’s a really substantial role for someone who isn’t a lead. The best sequences in the film are typically those in which he appears. Overall, the performances are good, though Sheridan appears strangely disconnected from the proceedings. It’s difficult to determine if that’s him or if the screenplay called for a poker look.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film does not have the same impact. It’s not absolutely unwatchable, but you need drop your expectations a notch and then some.

Even yet, you may be shocked at how little the film affects you. Despite its (possibly) serious topics, the script treats the majority of what is going on as insignificant. It’s as if Clooney was undecided about whether to keep the film in completely feel-good terrain or include darker elements that might have made it more fascinating. The end effect is a tonal disaster.

This writer professes ignorance of the source material, yet based just on the writing, the plot feels too light to warrant a film adaptation. Even occasions that should be life-changing for JR are handled with a detached demeanour. These are ostensibly actual events, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before in coming-of-age stories. A good script would have added weight.

As it stands, the film is difficult to recommend.

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