Director: George Clooney
Writer: William Monahan
Starring: Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd, Sondra James, Max Martini, and Matthew Delamater
Based on the memoir by J.R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar is a coming-of-age story about an aspiring writer. J.R. lives with his mother, uncle and grandparents and is aiming to go to Yale to become a writer. His father left when he was young and his Uncle Charlie acts as the role model and mentor as he is growing up.
One of the earliest lines in the film is J. R. saying that we all need an Uncle Charlie and by the end of the film, you’ll agree with that. Uncle Charlie is a lovable character and someone that every family needs. He’s a father figure for J.R. and someone that is there for him at every point. This isn’t someone who is going to let you down. Ben Affleck’s gives a career defining performance as Charlie. The facial expressions, the attitude. It’s all perfect. From the first moment he is on screen, he’s full of charisma and elevates the film.
The rest of the cast are also great. Tye Sheridan and Daniel Ranieri both play J.R. at different stages of growing up. They are both great. Lily Rabe plays Dorothy, J.R.’s mother. She has high expectations for her son, wanting a better life for him that she had. Lily Rabe is excellent. Christopher Lloyd gives another excellent performance as the grandfather, who acts like he doesn’t like family relying on him but is always there when needed.
What makes the family so great, despite J.R.’s absent father, is that they are all very supportive of each other. The Grandfather acts like he doesn’t care, just sitting in his chair all day, but he takes J.R. to the father-son day and he’s standing in anticipation when the letter from Yale finally arrives. The whole family dynamic may be dysfunctional, but it’s an aspirational family and when our time with them is over as the credits start to role, you’ll wish it was going to last just a little longer.
The film does walk a very fine line, almost crossing over and becoming too sentimental. It’s a heart-warming film, that feels life affirming and full of positivity. There is enough darkness that stops it from crossing that line and the family drama is well-portrayed. J.R.’s father is a horrible piece of work, and the film doesn’t pull any punches in showing that. The only blunder it makes is a really clunky line of dialogue when J.R. see’s his father for what he truly is and his father says you look like you’ve had a breakthrough. It’s a strange on the nose moment in an otherwise well-written script, which makes it stand out even more.
The Tender Bar is the feel-good film of the year. It’s full of emotion and while a lot of it feels familiar, the performances and family dynamic make the film a great time from start to finish. George Clooney adds another wonderful film to his great list of work as a director.