The Tender Bar
WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Based on a memoir of the same name, it tells the story of a boy who is seeking a replacement for his deadbeat father, and creates a unique bond with his uncle and patrons at a bar.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The story of the aspiring writer has been told many times -- the unconventional routes, the self-doubt, the unlikely influences. And in this regard, The Tender Bar ticks all the boxes, but it also has a self-awareness to it, it knows you have seen this story before, it knows that you know it is based on a memoir, it even makes several references to the fact that the main character will go on to write a memoir.
The story begins when 9-year-old JR Maguire (Daniel Ranieri) and his mother, Dorothy (Lily Rabe), move in with her parents in Long Island, New York, after Dorothy's marriage with JR's father has disintegrated and she can no longer pay rent. JR loves living with his grandparents, where there is a revolving door of family members and his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) lives. Uncle Charlie and the patrons at his bar, The Dickens, are the ones who encourage JR to pursue his love of reading and writing.
We later pick up on JR's story about ten years later, when JR (Tye Sheridan) is a freshman at Yale University and trying to find his voice as a writer while still dealing with the ramifications of having an absentee father. We also watch as he meets like-minded friends and has his first great romance.
The energy behind the film tends to taper off in the second half and when Tye Sheridan takes over the role of JR from Daniel Ranieri.
Ranieri had such a sense of wonder in his performance, and although Sheridan is always good in his roles, this just felt like an extremely tired portrayal. I would have much rather watched a film that showed young JR grow into teenage JR that showed much more about the life of Uncle Charlie and the other patrons of the bar. And while I was incredibly interested in the story of JR, his mother, his Uncle Charlie and his grandparents, as well as how he searches for father figures in his life, I found myself getting bored and losing interest once he goes to college and the story becomes almost entirely just about JR and a new cast of characters. It feels disjointed, like the second half is a spinoff of the first half.
Even though the story is described as JR learning lessons from the bar patrons, we see them very rarely, and they are mostly caricatures, only existing to pop up, give a slice of advice and buy JR and his friends' drinks. I could not tell you any of the patrons' names or any distinguishing characteristics about them other than they were middle-aged, white men.
However, the film does boast an extremely strong performance by Ben Affleck. His consistency in the tabloids often has us forgetting how talented he is. And this supporting role brought forth how good he is at alleviating material and providing gravitas and weight to a role that might not be necessarily written that way. It perhaps also pertains to George Clooney's directing style that he can bring out the best in Affleck. Lily Rabe and Christopher Lloyd are also extremely good in their performances.
The tricky thing about films based on memoirs (it is based on writer J.R. Moehringer's memoir of the same name) is that you can work within the confines of what happened in real life. The climax of the film takes place when JR decides to visit his father, and he confronts him. But because this is based on real-life, it might seem slightly anticlimactic, but perhaps it is realistic.
The film has a feel-good quality, and if this is only one portion of the character's (and writer's) journey, we feel as if he learnt a good lesson and that his life can progress going forward. If you are looking for an easy watch with a warm ending, you should give The Tender Bar a try.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: