‘The Tender Bar’ movie review: Director George Clooney whips up a soothing, heady cocktail

This adaptation of JR Moehringer’s eponymous memoir is spiked with hefty doses of nostalgia and an astonishing performance by Ben Affleck

This adaptation of Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist and journalist JR Moehringer’s eponymous memoir is a mellow drink, spiked with hefty doses of nostalgia and an astonishing performance by Ben Affleck.

After his father, the radio announcer known as The Voice (Max Martini) lets them down again, nine-year-old JR (Daniel Ranieri) and his mother, Dorothy (Lily Rabe), return to stay with his eccentric grandfather (Christopher Lloyd).

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Though Dorothy does not like staying with her parents as she feels it is an admission of defeat, JR enjoys the interactions with the extended family who breeze in and out of the family home. JR is especially fond of his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), who runs a bar called The Dickens on Long Island.

Uncle Charlie is a surrogate father to JR who is struggling with issues of identity — he calls himself JR rather than Junior as he is named after his father. Charlie, who is self-taught, is a life coach for JR from telling him the essential things required to be a man to advising him to pick philosophy as one will always do well in that class since there is no right answer. Dorothy wants JR to go to Yale and become a lawyer and though JR wants to be a writer, he does go to Yale and get a law degree.

The Tender Bar

  • Director: George Clooney
  • Cast: Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe, and Christopher Lloyd
  • Story line: A coming-of-age story of a writer, his absent father and cool uncle
  • Run time: 104 minutes

The movie follows JR’s journey as he goes through college, meets and falls hopelessly in love with Sidney (Briana Middleton) a “lower-upper-middle” girl. After floating around, JR finally goes to The New York Times to get a job in a bid to win Sidney over, and because when “You suck at writing that’s when you become a journalist (ouch).”

The seventies and eighties are beautifully recreated with the clothes, cars and music being just so. While the whole “birth of a writer” is not particularly path-breaking (“you are a writer the minute you say you are”), The Tender Bar has a gentle likeability.

Tye Sheridan as the older JR, Rabe, Ranieri and Lloyd are eminently watchable while Affleck hits the bullseye as Charlie, making one immediately long for an uncle as cool as him. There is an understated power to his performance that grabs one’s attention and keeps it. Affleck should rightly be proud of “injecting this movie onto the world”. And yay for Clooney for whipping up this soothing heady cocktail.

The Tender Bar is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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