DIRECTOR: George Clooney

CAST: Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd, Max Martini, Sondra James, Michael Braun, Matthew Delamater, Max Casella, Rhenzy Feliz, Ivan Leung, Briana Middleton, Daniel Ranieri, Ron Livingston

RUNNING TIME: 104 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A young aspiring writer (Sheridan) takes meaningful life advice from his bartender uncle (Affleck)…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Despite being one of the planet’s biggest and most adored movie stars, George Clooney’s profile has shrunk considerably in recent years. The guy is still working, albeit more as a director now than anything, but his new responsibilities as a husband and father have nobly taken priority, which do reflect in some of his more recent works such as last year’s dour sci-fi drama The Midnight Sky, but none more so than in his latest directorial effort The Tender Bar, which offers a much gentler and personality-driven tale of growing up in less-than-fortunate circumstances.

However, as hard as Clooney might try to instil some likeable energy into his film, it still never manages to be any better than just “okay”, thanks to a rather bland and uneventful script which doesn’t completely grasp the world around it.

The Tender Bar is based on the memoir of the same name by writer J.R. Moehringer, who we are introduced here in 1970s Long Island as a young boy (Daniel Ranieri) as he moves with his mother (Lily Rabe) into the crowded home of his cantankerous grandfather (Christopher Lloyd), after they are abandoned by J.R.’s irresponsible and absent father, a radio DJ known as “The Voice” (Max Martini). The absence of said father leads J.R. to pursue a replacement figure, and he quickly finds one in his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), the town’s local bartender who gives him valuable life lessons and inspires the young boy to pursue a writing career. Years later, J.R. (now played by Tye Sheridan) manages to acquire a place at Yale, where he continues to forge a career for himself using the helpful advice his uncle has imparted upon him, with occasional struggles such as winning the heart of a more affluent young student (Briana Middleton), and confronting his actual father who’s been of absolutely no use to his life beforehand.

The key term here is “occasional struggles”, for The Tender Bar is oddly lacking any real conflict that makes the main character’s journey palatable or even that interesting of a story. This is because William Monahan’s script seems to weirdly be in love with its own voice, spending more time playing around with its intrinsic dialogue than actually bothering to focus on specific plot points, many of which are summed up quickly via some awkward and heavily expositional voiceover by Ron Livingston instead of actually showing some of these things on-screen. It’s one of those scripts that thinks it’s smarter and more profound than it is, like it’s trying to go for what Good Will Hunting (co-written, ironically enough, by Ben Affleck) managed to achieve but only took from it the snappy dialogue instead of the actual dramatic weight that it carried. The result is a film that seriously has no idea what to do with itself, because it lacks the investment in most of these characters since they never really run into much conflict for the viewer to latch onto, and whenever they do find themselves in some kind of situation, they either end up going nowhere or are quickly resolved with a simple phone call. Additionally, the characters are written about as thinly as the paper they’re printed on, with most being reduced to one-note cartoonish stereotypes or random background characters that get absolutely no development whatsoever, which are again tossed to the side so that the script can haemorrhage out more self-satisfied dialogue.

Thank goodness, then, that director George Clooney steps in to try and inject at least a little bit of life into this mediocre script. You can always tell that there is a sense of a slight goofball personality whenever Clooney steps behind the camera, and The Tender Bar definitely has moments where his jokester side comes into play, but has a reasonable enough hold on the more impactful scenes that do retain a strong sense of likeability. Nowhere is that stronger than in the performance that Ben Affleck gives; in a supporting turn that is easily the biggest highlight of the movie, Affleck radiates plenty of charm and charisma as a typical mentor archetype who the actor gives plenty of warmth and winning energy into someone who could have easily been played a lot more conventionally by a less-aware actor. Affleck shines so much that actual lead Tye Sheridan often threatens to be overshadowed, but that’s not so much because of his own performance (he’s decent in the movie)  but because, again, the character is written so blandly that you immediately gravitate much more towards the other, more interesting person he’s getting his advice from.

Ultimately, The Tender Bar is a deeply flawed movie that is saved by the charm and grace of its director and performers, who refuse to let a rather self-important script get the better of them.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Tender Bar is an average but still likeable drama that’s boosted by George Clooney’s playful direction and especially Ben Affleck’s charismatic supporting turn, which barely overshadows a bland and self-important script by William Monahan.

The Tender Bar is now showing in select cinemas nationwide.

It will be available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 7th January 2022.

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