The Tender Bar

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Tender Bar
dir George Clooney
scr William Monahan
prd Grant Heslov, George Clooney, Ted Hope
with Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd, Briana Middleton, Max Martini, Rhenzy Feliz, Max Casella, Sondra James, Michael Braun, Ron Livingston
release US 17.Dec.21,
UK 7.Jan.21
21/US 1h46

sheridan rabe lloyd
london film fest

Is it streaming?

ranieri and affleck
Based on the memoir by JR Moehringer, this warmly well-made drama traces his coming-of-age from childhood to early adulthood. It's a lovely story, infused with some enjoyably spiky charm, although its insights are somewhat underwhelming simply because they're so familiar. Still, director George Clooney and a gifted cast bring out the attitudes of the characters, and William Monahan's screenplay has a nice crackle to it that holds the attention.
In 1973, young JR (Ranieri) and his mother (Rabe) move home to Long Island to live with her parents (Lloyd and James). Missing his deadbeat father (Martini), JR enjoys the boisterous family atmosphere, especially his engaging Uncle Charlie (Affleck), who lets him hang out in the local bar he runs. Years later, JR (now Sheridan) heads off to university, where he finds friendship with his roommate Wesley (Feliz) and pursues romance with with the elusive Sidney (Middleton). Then after studying law, he begins to pursue his dream to become a writer.
Narrated by the future JR (Livingston) in a somewhat standard wryly knowing retrospection, the screenplay cuts between the time periods as it inches forward. This leaves the film feeling episodic, with some mini-dramas far more compelling than others. A visit to Sidney's wealthy parents has a nice bite, as does JR's on-off relationship with her. But his ongoing estrangement from his father never quite resonates. And the film oddly never makes much of his connection with Charlie beyond what's obvious.

Performances are relaxed and authentic, augmented by an overarching nostalgic tone. The snappy dialog gives the actors a chance to create lively, likeable characters who interact with plenty of spark. At the centre, Sheridan has engaging presence in the key plot thread, finding nice textures that give JR a smiley, curious personality. The young Ranieri is also astute at revealing underlying thoughts. Meanwhile, Rabe and Lloyd both have strong moments, while Affleck skilfully puts his charisma to use along with plenty of sardonic wit.

The film is peppered with terrific period songs, which offer musical montages to go along with the rather random series of events that make up the narrative. But since it covers a lot of ground, the story begins to lose focus as it goes along, abandoning involving plot threads to move in new directions that are less interesting. And oddest of all is that the film never quite gets underneath the repeated line, "And that's when I knew I was a writer." But perhaps that's the point.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 7.Jan.22

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

send your review to Shadows... The Tender Bar Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall