Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Tender Bar

Movie Name:
The Tender Bar
Year of Release: 2021
Director: George Clooney
Starring: Ben Affleck, Daniel Ranieri, Tye Sheridan, Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd, Max Martini, Rhenzy Feliz, Briana Middleton, Max Casella, Sondra James, Michael Braun, Matthew Delamater
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Actor, writer, producer and director George Clooney continues his steadily output of projects, following the successful "The Midnight Sky" which he released on Netflix. "The Tender Bar" is the adaptation of the memoir by J.R. Moehringer, scripted by the celebrated William Monahan (who won the Academy Award for Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" and has also written "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Body of Lies" both for Ridley Scott). The film follows the story of J.R. who we first encounter as he and his mom are coming back to her father's house, following the dissolution of her marriage. He is taken under the wing of his uncle, who works and owns a local bar. Charlie becomes his father figure, motivating him to pursue his dreams, and become a writer. His mom on the other hand, has openly declared her ambition that he goes to Yale or Harvard and become a lawyer. J.R. does eventually manage to get a scholarship and goes to Yale in the early 80s, making some life long friends along the way, and starting an unfulfilling relationship with Sidney, who has plans of her own, which don't include him. As J.R. navigates his first professional experiences, he also comes to terms with the role of his actual father in his life, both in terms of his absence and other issues his uncle warns him to stay clear of.
"The Tender Bar" manages to be yet another coming of age story, about a young man living with his slightly dysfunctional family, aiming to become a writer, but having to come to terms with the heavy legacy his absent and alcoholic father has had in his own life. While Cameron Crowe for instance crafted his coming of age narrative in "Almost Famous", also on the premise of a young boy growing up without a father figure but protected by a brilliant and controlling mother, permeating his narrative with humor and enough details to keep the characters always enthralling, George Clooney transfers some of that fatherly mantle to Ben Affleck's character, failing however to give that uncle much of a dimension aside from being a saintly, good humored presence who owns a bar. While there is much to admire about this film, particularly as young Daniel Ranieri navigates the dynamics of his family, and then Tye Sheridan as his grown up equivalent, tries to navigate his own life and decide what comes next, the film fails to give much dimension to both Ben Affleck's Charlie and Lily Rabe's Mom, both of whom have a fair amount of screen time, but whose characters while enticing and somewhat vivid (a testament to the quality of its performers), fail to be more than just a pale version of the stories they also could and should have shared. "Almost Famous" managed to bring William Miller to life, not because of the rock stars he interacted with, but because of the diverse group of people he learnt from, how they shaped his writing and his experiences, including his college professor mother. "The Tender Bar" feels like it's on the brink of showcasing the tribulations of this young artist, and how the people who surround him shaped much of what he has turned out to be, but shies away from giving those characters some extra dimension, or for that matter, some much needed humor. Curtis Hanson also managed to capture the tribulations of a young author in "Wonder Boys", and did so with heart and humor, something "The Tender Bar" could have benefited from. As it is, it's a competent film, with a great performance from Ben Affleck, and solid support from the wonderful Lily Rabe, newcomer Daniel Ranieri and Tye Sheridan. The cinematography from Martin Ruhe is solid, as is the score from Dara Taylor and production design from Kalina Ivanov. Worth watching.