When I watched the trailer for The Tender Bar, I was incredibly interested. It looked funny and has an incredible cast, including Christopher Lloyd, Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, and Lily Rabe. I’ve been a fan of Christopher Lloyd forever, I like Ben Affleck when he’s in a solid role and have loved Lily Rabe in every performance. Once I watched the film, I found that the performances were excellent but the story lacked depth.
The Tender Bar is a coming-of-age drama directed by George Clooney from a screenplay by William Monahan. The film is an adaptation of a book of the same name by J.R. Moehringer. In the film, a divorced mother, Dorothy (Lily Rabe), moves back into her father’s house with her son, J.R. (Daniel Ranieri as a young boy). The young boy seeks a replacement for his absent father (Max Martini) and ends up bonding with his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) and the patrons of Charlie’s bar. They influence him and guide J.R. (Tye Sheridan) as he grows up, going to college and learning about girls.
There are several elements of the film that I did like. The film has a lot of humor and family relationships of all types. Christopher Lloyd in particular has some of the funniest lines in the movie. The warmth of a large family, in the early scenes, comes across thoroughly. The bond between a young boy and his father figures is especially loving, showing that fathers are far more than the one that you are born to. The relationship between J.R. and his uncle Charlie is well explored and developed. It is the most engaging piece of the film and shines through even when the story seems to focus on other ideas. The relationship between J.R. and his mother is endearing and heartwarming.
Among the other aspects that make this story shine are the performances. Christopher Lloyd is hilarious as Grandpa Moerhinger. He has moments of sheer comedic genius and his performance is one of my favorites in the film. His time on screen is much too short. Ben Affleck as Uncle Charlie is outstanding. The role fits his acting style perfectly as he is charming, loving, and warm. Lily Rabe as Dorothy is also amazing. Her arguments with her father are part of what drives the humor of the film but it is her portrayal of her bond with her son that makes the performance. Again, her time in the film is much too short. Daniel Ranieri as young J.R is sweet, loving and his performance is incredible. Tye Sheridan plays the older J.R. and is artful, strong and funny in his portrayal. Every member of the cast does an awesome job and the cast is what makes the film as good as it is.
There are elements that make me question this film, however. The story feels like something from thirty years ago, despite the book having been written in 2005. The unwinding of the main character’s childhood and his conflict with his father is interesting but feels outdated, a story we’ve heard too many times before. Even though I like the family dynamics, it is not anything new or original and the story falls flat without more to the narrative. It is shallow and doesn’t go into as much depth in developing the relationships either.
The characters and the acting are incredibly engaging but a young man exploring his lack of paternal figure and love just isn’t as exciting as one would hope. The revelations at the end come as no surprise and the ending falls flat due to the lack of true development. I also felt like we needed more time with Christopher Lloyd and Lily Rabe as they both brought more humor and warmth to their roles. Ben Affleck added those elements as well but it was not enough to compensate for the shallow story. Despite that, there are audiences who will still enjoy the film, especially the early scenes that are packed with humor.
If you like stories about young boys and their relationships, you might enjoy this film. Christopher Lloyd is funny, Ben Affleck is excellent as is Lily Rabe, and both the young version of J.R., played by Daniel Ranieri, and Tye Sheridan as the older version of J.R. are great in their roles. As the leads, their performances highlight the best of the movie. The great performances will help balance out the less dynamic pieces of the film. Even with the lack of depth, I still enjoyed the movie.
Rating: 3 cars out of 5.
The Tender Bar
A neighborhood pub in Manhasset, Long Island, becomes a second home for a fatherless boy in THE TENDER BAR, a poignant and inspiring coming-of-age story directed by George Clooney. J.R. (Tye Sheridan and Daniel Ranieri), whose father disappeared from his life before he was old enough to speak, moves into his grandfather’s dilapidated house after he and his mother (Lily Rabe) once again hit hard times. Under the unconventional tutelage of his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), a charismatic, self-educated bartender, and a handful of the bar’s colorful regulars, J.R. grows into a young man determined to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer in this fiercely funny and blazingly honest adaptation of J.R. Moehringer’s bestselling memoir. Amazon Studios will release THE TENDER BAR in theaters on December 22, 2021, and on Prime Video on January 7th, 2022.
ONE-LINER: A boy growing up on Long Island seeks out father figures among the patrons at his uncle’s bar.