Based on the memoir of the same name by J. R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar is a coming-of-age drama from director George Clooney. The movie – which stars Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd, and Daniel Ranieri – details the life of J. R. from his younger years growing up in Long Island, to his early twenties after he graduates from university.
Beginning in 1973, the film follows J. R.’s story as he and his mother move in with his extended family, due to a lack of support (and interest) from his father. Here J. R. learns what a real home is like, and he gets to spend time surrounded by his grandparents and cousins, as well as his Uncle Charlie.
Charlie runs a bar in town and regularly allows his nephew to spend time with him at work. Looking out for J. R., and teaching him one or two lessons in how to be a good person, Charlie quickly becomes a positive force in the boy’s life, and encourages his academic pursuits.
Over time, J. R. moves out of the family home to attend Yale, but he returns to Long Island on a regular basis. And as life continues, J. R. becomes a writer, taking a job at the New York Times, but always finds time to come back and reconnect with his family and friends.
If the above plot summary for The Tender Bar doesn’t sound very exciting, it’s because as movie’s go, The Tender Bar isn’t very exciting. This isn’t to say this is a badly made film, or the cast don’t impress, it is simply to say this is a fairly sedate picture, where nothing much happens.
The Tender Bar is essentially one of those Sunday afternoon movies that you put on shortly after you finish your lunch, you watch about 20-minutes while lay on the sofa, fall asleep for the next 30-minutes, then wake up to see how it all ends. You’ll wonder if you missed anything important in the middle, but you’ll firmly believe you didn’t, and you’ll never ever return to it anyway.
The biggest takeaway you will have from the movie is that Ben Affleck is excellent in the role of Uncle Charlie. This takeaway will be entirely correct, because Affleck is in fact the best thing about The Tender Bar.
The least satisfying thing about the movie is that Affleck isn’t in it nearly enough. After appearing quite solidly during the first half of the film, his appearances become few and far between as the picture slides into its second half, and this is a shame.
It is during this second half where the movie also struggles to build up any real pizazz. The Tender Bar meanders along, never causing any offence, but simply never becoming particularly mesmerising either.
What doesn’t help the movie is that it struggles with the transition from the early years, where J. R. Moehringer is a child played by Daniel Ranieri, into its slightly later years, where J. R. is played by Tye Sheridan. Both actors are fine, but the interplay between young J. R. and Uncle Charlie is far better than the (brief) interactions between their older selves.
This isn’t Sheridan’s fault, it’s a simple case of the meatier elements of this movie, and perhaps its real heart, lying in the early relationship between nephew and uncle. With Charlie being somewhat of a surrogate figure for J. R., there’s something here for the film to latch onto at the beginning, but when this falls by the wayside the film really loses its focus.
Ultimately, the biggest issue with The Tender Bar is that while this is a pleasant enough film, with shades of The Wonder Years about it, it never really goes anywhere. And if a film doesn’t really go anywhere, you have to ask yourself, do you want to spend the best part of two hours in its company?
For those who do give The Tender Bar a shot (no pun intended), the aforementioned turn from Affleck provides something to hang the film on, while the rest of the cast all put in solid performances. The overall tone of the film is inoffensive, and with the exception of a few curse words and a brief scene of bonking, it’s the sort of picture you could let your nan watch – although you might want to leave the room when the shagging starts.
The Tender Bar is filmed with a sepia finish, adding to the cosy feel of the story, and those who grew up during the 1970s may find something appealing about the recreation of the era. There is certainly an inviting and friendly gloss to the movie, and the whole thing is very much bathed in nostalgia.
So, it’s fine. There’s nothing about The Tender Bar that is going to make anyone angry, upset, annoyed, or disheartened, and that’s always a good thing – just don’t expect to come away from it caring too much either.
If you want to watch The Tender Bar, the movie is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.