George Clooney gets back on track with The Tender Bar from Amazon Studios after a directing misfire with The Midnight Sky. Iconic screenwriter William Monahan pens the screenplay for the film, which is an adaptation of the best-selling memoir of the same name by J.R. Moehringer.
The film tells the story of J.R. (Tye Sheridan), a fatherless boy growing up in the glow of a bar where the bartender, his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), is the sharpest and most colorful of an assortment of quirky and demonstrative father figures. As the boy’s determined mother, Dorothy (Lily Rabe), struggles to provide her son with opportunities denied, she decides to leave the dilapidated home of her outrageous and begrudgingly supportive father (Christopher Lloyd). J.R. begins to gamely, if not always gracefully, pursue his romantic and professional dreams — with one foot persistently placed in Uncle Charlie’s bar.
The name J.R. Moehringer was somewhat of an anomaly when I hit play on The Tender Bar. However, as a fan of the two lead actors and biopics, I was open to giving the film a chance. Opening up in the mid-eighties, we meet a young J.R. on a train as he speaks to a priest before quickly cutting to the younger version of J.R. (Daniel Ranieri) and his mother down on their luck. Before long, mother and son are off to New York to live with her family.
Naturally, The Tender Bar follows a standard coming template we’ve seen on film time and time again. However, the film’s heart is in the acting, steered by another character performance by Ben Affleck as Uncle Charlie. Affleck gave a fantastic performance in The Way Back as a recovering alcoholic, followed by a turn as a debaucherous king in last year’s The Last Duel. In this film, Affleck brings an everyman to a Long Island bar owner who gives out wisdom and assumes the father figure role for J.R.
Affleck’s scenes with Tye Sheridan as the older J.R. reminded me of interactions with my Uncle and the two have great chemistry together. Similar to Clooney, Sheridan bounces back after a misstep (last year’s Voyagers) as he continues to display the natural screen presence first seen in Mud. Throughout the film, I found myself rooting for J.R. to achieve his goals on his journey to becoming a man.
Credit must also go to screenwriter William Monahan and the picture he paints of Tye’s dad (Max Martini), whom the audience knows only as “The Voice” for the bulk of the film’s duration. When Tye finally meets his dad as a man, I thought of the dalliances with my birth father, with who I never got a chance to interact with as an adult.
The supporting cast also gets a chance to shine in limited roles. Rhenzy Feliz portrays J.R.’s college roommate Wesley, while Brianna Middleton portrays Sidney’s love interest. In addition, no matter how small the part, it’s always great to see two actors that I grew up watching, in this case, Max Casella and Christopher Lloyd.
The Tender Bar is a standard one-time watch biopic that won’t require repeat viewings. However, I will recommend the film for fans of dramas and the cast.
Final Grade: B
The Tender Bar is available to stream on Amazon prime tomorrow.