Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews The Tender Bar

Josh Reviews The Tender Bar

The Tender Bar is an adaptation of novelist & journalist J. R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir.  The film chronicles the coming of age of young JR, growing up on Long Island in the seventies.  When his parents split up, JR and his mom move back in with his mom’s parents on Long Island.  As he grows up, JR bounds with his mom’s brother, Uncle Charlie, who runs a local bar.  The film adaptation was written by William Monahan and directed by George Clooney.

I was quite enamored by this sweet, small film.  There are some dramatic moments in the film, but I appreciated that the film avoided the BIG SWEEPING EVENTS often present in coming-of-age movies.  The film has a loose, anecdotal structure.  In less-skilled hands this could have resulted in the film’s feeling boring and aimless, but I felt the result was that the film felt lifelike and true, which hooked me more deeply into the story.  This is a testament to the source material, Mr. Monahan’s strong screenwriting skills, and Mr. Clooney’s steady hands at the helm.

The film is anchored by the performance of Ben Affleck as Uncle Charlie.  Mr. Affleck is terrific.  This performance reminds me why I’ve been such a fan of Mr. Affleck’s for so long, since his work as a young man in films like School Ties, Chasing Amy, and of course eventually in Good Will Hunting.  Mr. Affleck is skill a talented actor and a charismatic movie star.  In a performance like this one, those two qualities work well together and enhance one another.  The film allows us to get captivated by Charlie in the same way that young JR does, and Mr. Affleck’s rich, emotional performance draws us into the character and helps it all feel real.  Mr. Affleck gives Charlie depth and nuance beyond the idealized vision that young JR has of his uncle.  (This is a tricky balancing act, because Charlie is seen through JR’s eyes.)

Tye Sheriden (Ready Player One, and he played Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix) is strong as JR.  he’s a great anchor for the story and he carries us through the tale.  Mr. Sheriden (and the smart script) allow us to see the flaws in JR as he grows up, while keeping him likable enough that we’re rooting for him as the story unfolds.

Christopher Lloyd is ferociously entertaining as JR’s grandfather.  It’s thrilling to see Mr. Lloyd once again working his magic on screen.  He scores most of the film’s biggest laughs.  Grandpa Maguire is crotchety and irritable, but we also get to see his heart shine through at a few key moments.  Lily Rabe (so entertaining as Liz Cheney in Vice) is great as JR’s mother; she has great chemistry with both Mr. Affleck and Mr. Sheriden.  Max Martini (Saving Private Ryan, Pacific Rim) is perfect as JR’s asshole of a dad.  Daniel Ranieri is terrific in as a younger version of JR — he carries several extended sequences in the film!  And Ron Livingston hits all the right notes in his narration as an older JR.

I enjoyed the way the film developed The Dickens, Charlie’s bar.  We spend a lot of time there, and the warm cinematography combined with the jovial performances of the actors playing the bar’s regulars combine to allow the viewer to experience the place with the joy that JR clearly feels towards it, and towards Charlie.

There’s a warmth that infuses the entire film that I found quite pleasing.  Mr. Clooney has skillfully rebounded from the misfire of The Midnight Sun (a film I really wanted to like but that I found in the end to be a complete mess) and ably reminds us of his talents that were so clearly on display in so many of the earlier films he directed (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck).

The Tender Bar is sweet, funny at times, and gently moving.  I very much enjoyed it.

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