VOD film review: The Tender Bar
Ivan Radford | On 09, Jan 2022
Director: George Clooney
Cast: Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd
A long-held tradition of adapting people’s memoirs into films and TV series has proven that there are some diaries that are scorchingly dramatic, thrilling eventful and profoundly resonant. The Tender Bar, based on JR Moehringer’s coming-of-age memoir, is a reminder that not all diary entries are interesting. Sometimes, Colin just went to the newsagents and bought some Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. Good for Colin, but not something that cinema need worry about.
The film stars Tye Sheridan as JR, a young man with dreams of becoming a writer. We meet him even younger than that (played by Daniel Ranieri), as he and his mother (Lily Rabe) move back in with her father (Christopher Lloyd – enjoying a late career surge of roles). His dad is absent, a voice on the radio (Max Martini) that JR listens to in the hope that some kind of connection with the estranged radio DJ might happen over the airwaves. And so he turns to his uncle, Charlie (Ben Affleck), for life lessons and advice.
Charlie runs a bar and the best scenes are when the young JR – and, eventually, the older JR – is just hanging around with the Long Island locals, soaking up the laidback vibes and helping out with crossword clues. But there’s nothing more to the movie than that, with George Clooney’s sun-dappled direction bringing a hazy warmth to the table but never shaping the ambling script into something engaging or interesting.
Things slugglishly move along, from family illness and college romances to an opportunity at the New York Times, but there’s no grit, weight or urgency to any of it. The only reason to tune in is Ben Affleck’s generous supporting turn, which plays like an upbeat cousin of his performance in The Way Back. But even Affleck’s charismatic presence can’t elevate this forgettable, middle-of-the-road journey through coming-of-age convention.