Directed by: George Clooney
Premise: Based on the memoir by J.R. Moehringer. Set in the 1970s and early 80s, J.R. Moehringer and his mother move into the family’s Long Island home. Under the guidance of his uncle, J.R. works toward becoming a writer.
What Works: The first half of The Tender Bar is a portrait of a family as seen by the young J.R. Moehringer. That’s the most compelling aspect of the film and the family is an interesting and entertaining if slightly dysfunctional crew. The two primary adults J.R.’s childhood are his mother and uncle played by Lily Rabe and Ben Affleck. Economic desperation has forced the mother to move back in with her father who also shelters much of the rest of his family in his Long Island home. The mother is defined by guilt and a sense of failure which underlines Rabe’s performance. The standout character of The Tender Bar is Ben Affleck as J.R.’s uncle. He’s a well read and self-educated bartender and Affleck turns up the charm. The uncle assumes the role of mentor to J.R. and imparts life lessons to the boy that prove useful when J.R. grows up. Their scenes together are fun and heartwarming but in a specifically masculine way. The cast also includes Christopher Lloyd as the grandfather and Max Martini as J.R.’s estranged dad. Lloyd and Martini aren’t in the film very much but they do make an impression. The father is a mystery to J.R. and Martini has just the right gruff charm to be an effective counterpoint to Affleck’s character. As a period piece, The Tender Bar has an authentic feel for its time period. The art direction and costuming but also the sensibilities of the characters feel of their time and place.
What Doesn’t: The weakest element of The Tender Bar is it protagonist. J.R. Moehringer is the least interesting character in the movie especially when he gets older and attends college. This isn’t the fault of Tye Sheridan, who plays the older J.R. The problem is that the character comes across rather whinny and pathetic but also bland. While at college, J.R. falls in love with a woman (Briana Middleton) who keep stringing him along but will never commit. This one-sided love story takes over the film and J.R. spends a lot of the second half of The Tender Bar feeling sorry for himself. It’s not compelling viewing. The film also suffers from unnecessary voiceover. It doesn’t tell us anything that wasn’t evident on screen and the narration is distracting and out of step with the tone of the movie.
DVD extras: Available on Amazon Prime
Bottom Line: The Tender Bar has a vivid sense of place and a likable cast of supporting characters but the core of the movie is empty and unsatisfying. It starts out well but the film gets sidetracked by an uninteresting romance.
Episode: #887 (January 16, 2022)