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Film Review: The Tender Bar

Director:    George Clooney

Cast:    Tye Sheridan, Ben Affleck, Lily Rabe, Briana Middleton, Daniel Ranieri, Christopher Lloyd, Max Martini

Rating:     MA

Running Time:     106

Australian Distributor:     Amazon Prime


George Clooney’s The Tender Bar is an adaptation of the 2005 memoir from Pulitzer-winning journalist and writer J.R. Moehringer’s of the same name. The film chronicles his journey from his childhood days and how he transformed into a “man”.

The Tender Bar stands firm on the bedrock of relationships as the relationship between J.R. Moehringer (Sheridan) and his uncle Charlie (Affleck) breathes soul into the film. Charlie, who runs a bar, essentially became a father figure for J.R. following J.R.’s father (Max Martini) leaving him and his mother. The lessons and conversations between J.R. and Charlie are a main driving force of the film and the former’s life. Given how pivotal this relationship is, one can’t help but wonder if the name “The Tender Bar” is a play on the words “The Bar(tender)”. For J.R., Charlie’s lively bar is almost like a school. There is also a significant focus on J.R.’s other relationships which proved to be invaluable as it provided context to understand the coming-of-age story of the protagonist.   

Embracing its coming-of-age nature, the film inspires viewers to revisit their respective adolescent and young adult years. It puts them in the position of reminiscing how they have made their career decisions and life choices. The experience of growing up is unique to each. While J.R.’s story is not exactly relatable, everyone has their own stories to look back on. Meanwhile, there is also the thrill of being young and wanting to tick all boxes evident in J.R.’s journey. He wants to be a writer, have a romantic relationship, and fulfil his mother’s expectations all at the same time.

Two things going particularly strong for The Tender Bar were its performances and writing. Affleck gives an endearing performance as Uncle Charlie and will be in awards conversations. Sheridan also holds the fort on his end. Finally, the film introduces child actor newcomer Ranieri, who plays a young J.R. and does justice to his meaty role while carrying some of the film’s most important scenes.

Monahan’s screenplay does what one would call multi-tasking. It deftly handles a load of relationships and stages of life, ensuring that none of them is undermined. It keeps J.R. at the centre of the film throughout as his affecting interactions with the characters within the bar are very well sketched out. However, the film does waver at times in the middle, especially the relationship between J.R. and Sidney (Briana Middleton). But, that does not take away the limelight from the other merits of the screenplay.   

That being said, The Tender Bar needs to catch up when it comes to the other departments. Somehow, it feels like Clooney loosened the reins a little too much when it came to his directing and not in a good way. While the cinematography and production design do deserve some credit for recreating the period, the score did not contribute much to the affair. Rather than the score, the songs achieve a lot of the film’s feel and the characters’ emotions.

At the end of the day, The Tender Bar is a refreshing coming-of-age story that makes an empathetic attempt at illustrating the life of J.R. Moehringer on screen. With solid performances and a heart-warming story to tell, it might just become one of the best films of the year.


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