Everyone grows up differently and is shaped by the people they surround themselves with. Everyone has their own coming-of-age story in different locations, scenarios and, of course, emotions. However, not many people can say they were raised around a bar. This experience is what “The Tender Bar,” the latest film from filmmaker and actor George Clooney and screenwriter William Monahan, depicts.
Starring Tye Sheridan as J.R., a Long Island kid who seeks a father figure in his bar-owning uncle played by Ben Affleck, “The Tender Bar” is a unique story of one boy’s journey through his youth towards post-graduate life. It is, however, nothing more than that.
Perhaps the best word to describe “The Tender Bar” is anti-climatic. For a film that builds a story around the struggles and tribulations of its central character, nothing of any interest truly happens.
J.R. moves through his life facing some clinical issues such as an absentee father, working-class conflicts and academic anxieties, but for the most part, these issues aren’t built upon. It is frustrating, to say the least, how J.R. goes about handling things with an almost uncharacteristic coolness instilled in him from lessons he has learned from his Uncle Charlie — a role model and working-class man. Of course, such a manner can be authentic, but it becomes unbelievable based on the characters’ discussions of trauma.
One of the many things critics have to say about films is that it is “missing something,” like an emotion, a punch or the actual breakdown of a character’s reality. “The Tender Bar” is a good example of this. Films are typically expected to have a proper emotive drive — the thing that serves as the film’s make-up or skeleton — especially when the film deals with such a precarious and sensitive issue.
Some things can be said about the source material as well, “The Tender Bar,” written by J. R. Moehringer — a personal memoir the film is based on. I have not read the memoir, but based on the film, I can imagine that pages don’t just fly by without any hint of rawness. After all, when we watch, read or listen to anything, the main thing that draws us in is feeling. How we feel about something and how we react drives our interpretation of the subject at hand. When said subject lacks emotion, there is little to no benefit.
However, speaking of benefit, Affleck’s portrayal of Uncle Charlie is impressive. Some would argue that Affleck portrays a displaced version of his younger self, but what is apparent behind Affleck’s performance is his embodiment of the setting and character. The persona that feeds into Charlie is calm, collected, stern, strong, but more importantly, proud when it comes to his nephew because he wants nothing more than for J.R. to succeed. Monahan does a perfect job at writing Charlie’s character, specifically the character’s authenticity, but it’s unfortunate how his relationship with J.R. is the only enticing part of the movie.
To put it frankly, the viewer is left with an uninspired experience after seeing a film with a strong baseline, which is unfortunately wasted by its inability to properly strike the heart in any way. Featuring additional performances from Lily Rabe and Christopher Lloyd, “The Tender Bar” seeks to inspire the aspirations of youth but fails short on delivery and strength.