Review: The Tender Bar (2021)

The Tender Bar (2021)

Directed by: George Clooney | 106 minutes | drama | Actors: Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd, Max Martini, Rhenzy Feliz, Briana Middleton, Max Casella, Sondra James, Michael Braun, Matthew Delamater, Ivan Leung, Billy Meleady, Danielle Ranieri, Kate Avallone

Nine-year-old JR and his mother Dorothy are packed and on the way with the car. During the ride, JR prefers to listen to the radio, because then he can hear his father, a well-known disc jockey. Dorothy, however, firmly turns off the sound. Mother and son return to their parental home. Grandpa and grandma Moehringer are waiting there, who are used to being ready for offspring in need, even if it doesn’t always work out well. The film ‘The Tender Bar’ is a loving, slightly predictable ode to the white American working class in the countless suburbs of New York.

When JR is tired of the emotional chaos in the Moehringer house, the mousy boy finds comfort in the bar of his favorite Uncle Charlie. ‘The Tender Bar’ does little to hide the fact that Charlie is the most important father figure in JR’s life. He teaches his nephew the tricks of the trade ‘life’ and actually sees a writer in JR. The film is therefore based on JR Moehringer’s autobiography of the same name, which makes it feel authentic and lived through.

Unfortunately, ‘The Tender Bar’ also comes with a ton of death eaters about the father complex (you’re better off with a good uncle than an absent father) and authorship (reading, reading, learning to live and a broken heart). Moreover, it does not dare to talk about the material poverty of the Moehringers, but JR has to go to Harvard or Yale from his mother to escape a miserable existence. His uncle’s bar isn’t called ‘Dickens’ for nothing. Yet the film remains sympathetic enough because the actors still interpret the dramatic clichés credibly and with visible pleasure.

The role of Uncle Charlie is surprisingly well suited to Hollywood star Ben Affleck, laconic and warm at the same time. You don’t see that last bit very often with Affleck. He not only knows how to charm JR here, but also the viewer. Actually, Affleck should do these “little” movies more often instead of the batman growl. In addition, the two actors who play JR, the newcomer Daniel Ranieri and the twenty-something Tye Sheridan, know how to positively distinguish themselves. The rest of the cast also does more than creditable with two small highlights. Christopher Llyod, the wacky professor from the ‘Back to The Future’ trilogy (Robert Zemeckis, 1985-1990), takes on the role of Grandpa Moehringer and Briana Middleton delivers a dazzling performance as Sidney, the first great love of jr.

‘The Tender Bar’, both directed and produced by George Clooney, is more than solidly put together and never falls below the lower limit, but at the same time it plays it very safe. It’s all just a bit too clunky to be able to rise above itself, especially compared to previous directorial work by Clooney. No, then you’ll be more cinematically challenged by Clooney’s well-cut ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’ (2002), about television host Chuck Barris who claimed he worked for the CIA (with a wonderful supporting role for Rutger Hauer). Despite JR Moehringer’s flowery story, ‘The Tender Bar’ is just a gray mouse.

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