The Tender Bar, directed by George Clooney, based on the memoir by J.R. Moehringer, is entertaining thanks to the characters’ quirkiness. George Clooney’s direction creates a film that has humor, tension, and warmth. The film stars Ben Affleck, Christopher Lloyd, and Lily Rabe. In the lead role of J.R. is Tye Sheridan playing the teenage, young adult version and Daniel Ranieri as the kid version. I’m tired of stories of this nature, truth be told because it is the same white man lens, but the film did get chuckles and anger out of me at the violent, toxic nature of J.R.’s biological father.
Mostly Amusing Cast
The story follows the ups and downs in J.R.’s life as he finds father figures in the patrons who frequent his Uncle Charlie’s bar. The timeline alternates between kid J.R. and young adult J.R. as we see the trajectory of his life that lead him on the path to an elite, ivy-league college. The characters have personalities that stand out. Ben Affleck is funny as Uncle Charlie. He is a good-natured uncle who cares for his family and abhors J.R.’s biological dad known as “The Voice” (Max Martini) since he is a radio DJ. Although this doesn’t feel like a stretch as Affleck plays versions of this character in previous films.
But the entertainment is there. Daniel Ranieri is delightful. His character, Uncle Charlie, and the bar patrons have a wonderfully dynamic. I’ve been a fan of Lily Rabe’s since American Horror Story Coven, so seeing her is always a delight. Christopher Lloyd’s crotchety yet caring elderly grandfather is my favorite in The Tender Bar. Tye Sheridan does a decent job, but the difference in personality between his young adult character and the kid version is stark. It feels like a lot of critical info is missing from the in-between years, or they are playing two different people. So while I cheered for the child version of J.R., I felt indifferent to the adult version.
Heartwarming Story But Standard Lens
The story is warm, but not as much if you’re not a white guy because far more odds are stacked against us. The cast works well together, but the overabundance of fictionalized stories telling the tale of real white men—from This Boy’s Life to The Social Network—makes me exhausted. There are so many diverse and talented people outside the category of cis-hetero men who may never get their story told on the silver screen. So while the film is enjoyable, the story does little else.
The Tender Bar is not a film that inspires multiple rewatches. It’s a one-and-done film. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of one of the actors. I, perhaps, would watch again for Christopher Lloyd. Entertaining, to be sure, but it lacks memorability. There are scenes in The Tender Bar that make it a worthwhile view particularly if you need a pick-me-up and some laughs but it will not be for everyone and that’s a larger fault of the entire system than the film itself.
For decades, you can’t saturate the market with stories about white writers, directors, singers, sprinkle in the occasional film that does not focus on them, and expect people not to get exhausted with the humdrum Hollywood machine. If the story rose beyond entertainment, I’d like the film a lot more. Unfortunately, The Tender Bar leaves me with “a story about another white guy” confoundment.