Getting that warm, fuzzy, feel-good story about someone climbing out of a rough past they thought they would be stuck in forever– it’s what a lot of people want from a film going experience. Even though, you’re aware from the start that your protagonist is going to win out in the end, you’re in it for the ride. George Clooney‘s newest directorial effort is just that type of movie, but that’s its biggest disadvantage. While it does nothing wrong, it’s just such a commonplace sentiment now, that the most you can muster up by the end, is a simple, “Meh.”
J.R. (Tye Sheridan) is a young man whose father was never in his life. The only connection he has to the man is the golden voice that pumps out of the radio, as his father is a well known radio DJ in NYC. With no money to keep themselves afloat, J.R.’s mother takes the two to live with J.R.’s grandparents in the Long Island home she was raised in. As he grows, J.R. learns a lot about life from his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) who owns and bartends a local watering hole. Everything from school work to dating advice, if J.R. is getting advice, its coming from Charlie. When J.R.’s dreams (or maybe his mother’s dreams) come true by becoming a Yale graduate, his path to adulthood still has one major step to complete; he needs to finally have a real showdown with his old man.
There are people in this world who have had it rough. Certainly the world is full of people who have had worse upbringings than mine– and mine was pretty normal. And I would never take the troubles and tribulations of someone’s strife as a target for criticism…but the big problem with The Tender Bar is that we have seen this story before. Beyond that being a damning statement on the state of affairs in the world today, it’s a bit of a downer when you’re looking for something new. This is a story based on the real life of journalist J.R. Moehringer, lifted from his memoir of the same name. Yet, I could have slipped in any name in there aside from Moehringer and sadly been correct 60% of the time.
Sure, the circumstances of each person’s personal journey will differ. The road travelled in those other stories might be a little more twisted, as well. Good example is the now forgotten Being Flynn, which was adapted from the much better titled; Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. But The Tender Bar, while certainly a tough ride for Moehringer himself, is pretty vanilla when it comes to troubled pasts and broken upbringings. For someone who didn’t have a lot growing up in terms of fatherly support, monetary backing, friend’s even–J.R.’s life wasn’t that far apart from so many people.
All of this being said, The Tender Bar is still not a bad film. There are some delightful and well versed performances from Ben Affleck, Lily Rabe, Tye Sheridan, and Christopher Lloyd. The set design and cinematography all do great work to represent Long Island/NY of the 80s. It moves at a good pace that doesn’t make the viewing experience sluggish and drawn out. And apart from some strange life choices made by J.R., there isn’t much to complain about in terms of logical missteps and confusing plot lines. I mean, for all the advice Charlie gives the kid, he should have put more effort into making sure this kid didn’t rest his entire life path on following a woman who clearly didn’t care about him. That aside, he made it out ok.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d use The Hangover II as reference point for reviewing any other film (let alone one based on a person’s actual life that has been directed by George Clooney), but The Tender Bar reminds me of that rehearsal dinner speech given by Stu’s father-in–law. In the film, in a very strident act of passive aggressive dickery (this is now officially a real word), Stu’s father-in-law describes Stu’s blandness and safety by comparing him to a rice dish. He says, “Khao is soft white rice in lukewarm water. It has no taste. Befitted to small babies and very old people. It is nourishment that everyone can digest…Stu is Khao.” Well, while I’m not trying to speak ill of The Tender Bar, at the end of the day…”The Tender Bar is Khao.”
Final Grade- B- to a C+
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Here’s the trailer of the film.