By: Amanda Guarragi
George Clooney is back in the director’s chair for The Tender Bar. This is adapted from the memoir written by JR Moehringer and it explores his childhood with an absent father. In 1972, nine-year-old J.R. (Daniel Ranieri) moves into his grandfather’s dilapidated house in Long Island, N.Y. He is searching for a father figure and naturally, he falls under the unconventional tutelage of his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), a charismatic, self-educated bartender who introduces him to a handful of the bar’s colourful regulars. As the year’s pass and J.R. becomes a young man, he tries to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer. Throughout this film, we see the identity crisis this young boy has and how the people around him shape him into the man he becomes.
Maguire’s memoir is filled with little anecdotes and emotional moments. Even though his father is a drunk and abandoned him to work for radio, he still feels a connection to him when hearing his voice. His father is this empty figure that has such a dark presence in his life. The one person who makes that all go away is his Uncle, Charlie. Little J.R. takes a liking to Charlie because he is very honest with him and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He treats him like a little adult and always wants him to be the best version of himself. This is one of Ben Affleck’s best performances because he just naturally radiates this comforting, paternal energy. Affleck’s Uncle Charlie may be a bit of a hot-head, but when it comes to his family and his little nephew, he puts everything in check.
If it weren’t for Ben Affleck’s magnetic and heartwarming performance, The Tender Bar would have been as engaging. Clooney’s direction was very generic in retelling this story and the use of two different timelines in the narrative; a young J.R. and a future J.R. (Tye Sheridan), didn’t flow as much as it should have. There were many heartfelt moments shared between J.R. and his Uncle Charlie but when they weren’t on screen together, Sheridan didn’t have chemistry with anyone else. Clooney could have pulled a little bit more from the rest of the cast but they just didn’t connect.
The Tender Bar is a generic coming-of-age story that explores one family guiding a young boy to become successful, to lead a better life. There are some great life lessons and some fun moments, courtesy of old Uncle Charlie. It will also give you an appreciation of those parental figures in your life, who helped you become the person you are today. Even though Clooney’s return to the director’s chair is a bit lacklustre and a by-the-numbers adaptation, it’s Ben Affleck’s performance as Uncle Charlie that elevates the script to make this a decent watch. Make sure to catch this heartwarming film on Amazon Prime!