We start the film when the main character, J.R., is relatively young. Then, we flash forward and back. He and his mom are moving back in with her parents at the start. Used to it only being him and his mom, you see how close they are, yet he tells her that he “likes having people” in his life now.
J.R. enjoys having his kin around, especially his favorite uncle named Charlie (Affleck). His cousins are coming and going all the time, too.
The year is 1973. Uncle Charlie has a bar called ‘The Dickens’ where he serves up pints of ale and lends books to anyone who wants to read them. Watching how books excite one of his favorite people, who’s also basically a replacement father, is precisely the moment when J.R. decides to become a writer. Ben Affleck’s Uncle Charlie is easy-going and subtle; everything you want in an uncle and the actor playing the role. He’s perfect and I mean that about the uncle and about Affleck. Charlie gives the boy advice that he takes and holds onto for the rest of his life. Conversations between the two direct the youngster and the rest of the film, and it’s through these conversations that you see J.R. grow as a person. Come to think of it, you see Affleck grow as an actor, also.
If you’re one to pick about the little things, “The Tender Bar” could drive you a little crazy keeping up with something to pick about. One of the biggest flaws in the movie, and I wouldn’t have expected it from George Clooney, someone who has been in the business for ages, is what young J.R., a very dark hair, dark-eyed Daniel Ranieri, looks like versus the older version of himself, played by sandy color hair, blue-eyed, fair complected Tye Sheridan. There is no way that little Daniel would ever grow up to look similar to the people who played his parents, Lily Rabe and Max Martini; nor would he resemble Sheridan. That said, try not to concentrate on that and how off the music, the clothing and sets are or you’ll be taken out of the story.
The one-liners are on short supply, but they often do work when they’re used, depending on who’s delivering them. Grandpa’s (Christopher Lloyd) flatulence is humorous, but it’s unnecessary to use the joke more than once. We get it. Try and ignore these things, don’t pick, and don’t expect a masterpiece, and you’ll enjoy the movie much more. Okay! I’ll stop the ranting and get back to the film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir of the same name.
We get all information and more from J.R. throughout the film in voiceovers. We learn that J.R. hasn’t a man in his life, as his father ran from the situation the first chance he got. His mother has told him that his dad is on the radio and is known as “The Voice.”
The little boy tries to catch his show to get to know him at least a little when possible. After some time goes by and J.R. does a lot of learning through his mistakes, he ends up at an Ivy League school. Eventually, he gets a job at The Times, always with his Uncle Charlie nearby cheering him on; always his biggest supporter.
J.R. finally gets a chance to know his real father and what he sees; he doesn’t like, but it’s through meeting him that J.R. does something heroic to help someone who’s now in the position he was once in. He gives someone advice that you must do well in school to get anywhere in life. The reason he’s doing this is heartbreaking, but you’re glad to see someone is there to transfer that message to the ears that need to receive said message. This comes off as somewhat overly dramatic, but it’s a beautiful gesture all the same.
Another thing that doesn’t work is the relationship J.R. gets into once he’s in college. It couldn’t be less exciting, and it seems only to exist to make J.R. look more… normal or stable? I haven’t a clue because it isn’t that crucial to the crux of the story. Instead, what should be getting you more absorbed into J.R.’s life is putting you off of it because of the “been there, done that” feeling you can’t help but sense. Ultimately, what you do end up with are some memorable performances and an excellent film with a familiar plotline you see coming a mile away. Worth seeing, but don’t kill yourself getting to the theater. It can wait for home viewing.
In Theaters Nationwide December 22nd, 2021
Globally on Amazon Prime Video January 7th, 2022
The Tender Bar
Directed by: Academy Award® Winner George Clooney
Written by: Academy Award® Winner William Monahan
Produced by: Academy Award Winning Producer Grant Heslov and Ted Hope
Starring: Academy Award® Winner Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Emmy Award Winner Christopher Lloyd, Lily Rabe, Max Martini, and introducing Daniel Ranieri
Run Time: 1h 44m
*Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author J.R. Moehringer’s memoir “The Tender Bar”