Review: The Tender Bar | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, January 21st, 2022  

The Tender Bar

Studio: Amazon Studios
Director: George Clooney

Dec 20, 2021 Web Exclusive
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George Clooney’s latest feature film, The Tender Bar, is an unbelievably drab and brutally disinteresting film that lacks a clear sense of purpose.

Adapted from J.R. Moehringer’s memoir of the same name, The Tender Bar begins by following young J.R. (Daniel Ranieri) as he tries to find his role in the world. Staying at his grandfather’s house with his single mother, J.R.’s life is defined by his strong relationship with his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), a bartender who instills him with the knowledge of how to treat people in the world and a growing love for reading and writing. His relationship with his mother (Lily Rabe) is just as strong, as she infuses him with her dreams and ambitions, explaining to him that his goal in life should be to go to Harvard or Yale in order to eventually become a lawyer. The film’s first half mostly explores J.R.‘s childhood as he grows up without his biological father, using Uncle Charlie as his male role model instead.

The film then abruptly jumps to J.R.’s (now played by Tye Sheridan) college years at Yale and his ensuing young adult life. These years are marked by a variety of turbulent events, including his on-and-off relationship with Sidney (Briana Middleton), his struggle to find his identity, and his difficulties pursuing his writing career. Regardless, his connection to his Uncle Charlie stays strong as he often comes back to the bar for comfort and guidance. The film’s second half also explores how J.R.’s life has been disrupted by his father’s absence as J.R. consistently struggles to find his purpose in the world.

The Tender Bar retains most of the typical qualities of an Oscar-bait film. The film’s conceit offers a wide variety of interesting characters, a compelling story about struggles and hardships, and a rumination on the power of human connection. Unfortunately, Clooney’s film fails to bring any of these aspects to life. Instead, the film is plagued by severe tonal inconsistency, presenting two phases of J.R.’s life in a way that is completely disconnected and awkward. This is mainly attributable to the film’s decision to skip the character’s adolescent years entirely, asking viewers to believe that he went from a young boy who loved writing and books to an Ivy-league student in what feels like a matter of seconds. This decision also sacrifices the idea of exploring what could have been the most interesting years of his life, showing how he truly worked his way up the social ladder rather than just implying it.

The Tender Bar is also plagued by a lack of focus. While the film always centers around J.R.’s character, Clooney’s approach to tackling the story suggests many themes but never truly explores them. Ideas like searching for one’s identity, “living to work” versus “working to live”, and the power of family are all highlighted throughout the film. Due to how the story progresses though, jumping from one event to another without ever addressing each moment’s importance to the story, these themes are never explored in a strong way that makes any sort of impact. This issue also emphasizes the broader flaws of William Monahan’s script, which relies on forcefully saccharine and manipulative dialogue to make the film’s story “feel good.” In the end, it’s difficult for The Tender Bar to make viewers feel anything when none of the characters are written like actual human beings.

The Tender Bar’s largest issue, though, is that it’s simply uninteresting. The film frames J.R. as an uncompelling character, aided by Sheridan’s shaky and ineffective portrayal of him. Additionally, the character’s connection with his Uncle Charlie, besides in a few instances, appears more as a means to tie the plot together than a convincingly essential part of the film’s story. Ironically, J.R.‘s greatest struggle in the film is the greatest struggle of The Tender Bar as well: the difficulty to find and retain a true identity. As a result, Clooney’s attempt at telling a heartwarming story comes off as much more fatuous than successful. (www.amazon.com/Tender-Bar-Ben-Affleck/dp/B09J67JJGC)

Author rating: 3.5/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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