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The Tender Bar

A boy growing up on Long Island seeks out father figures among the patrons at his uncle’s bar.

An aspiring writer grows up taking advice from his bartender uncle in . As a kid, JR () accompanied his single mom () to live at the home of his Grandpa () on Long Island. It is there JR is taken under the wing of his Uncle Charlie (), the absence of his radio DJ father known only as The Voice (). As a young adult, JR () is amitted into Yale to fulfill his dreams of being a writer and it is there where he becomes smitten with his upper-middle-class classmate Sidney ().

The Tender Bar is a drama directed by George Clooney, based on the memoir of the same name by J. R. Moehringer. Taking a page out of The Wonder Years, the film is narrated by an older JR (), who recounts his time growing up in Long Island. It is while hanging out with his Uncle Charlie at his bar The Dickens, where JR first gains his aspirations to become a writer. However, as the years pass by, JR comes to learn how difficult it can be to achieve this goal.

The Tender Bar makes an interesting structural decision since even though the film is otherwise depicted in chronological order, the first act of the features the occasional flash-forward, depicting JR as a young adult on a train to Yale for his interview. Perhaps it was a decision by George Clooney, directing only his second feature that he hasn't also acted in, so that Tye Sheridan, who shares top billing with Ben Affleck, could appear in the plot sooner than a time jump that occurs at approximately the 40-minute mark. That said, I do think that The Tender Bar was much more charming when it featured newcomer Daniel Ranieri as the Young JR bonding with his Uncle, who encourages JR to read and gives him advice in lieu of JR's absentee father.

Arguably, The Tender Bar does lose some of its charm once Sheridan takes over as JR and the film becomes much more of a typical coming-of-age story. The great Christopher Lloyd, as JR's curmudgeon of a grandfather, takes a backseat as the story focuses much more on JR's unrequited on-off relationship with his classmate Sidney. Even so, this subplot does come off as rushed, with the character of Sidney being quietly written off through dialogue when her usefulness to the narrative was over.

Probably the biggest constants within The Tender Bar are Ben Affleck as Uncle Charlie, who marks the film's time jump by growing a beard, and Lily Rabe (American Horror Story) as JR's mother, the latter of whom also has a rushed through subplot towards the end of the first act when she has surgery after a cancer scare, though it is never brought up again for the rest of the film. With the exception of JR, I would argue that Uncle Charlie is probably the most developed character in The Tender Bar and I thought that Affleck did a good job in the mentorship role. However, I do wish there was more to do in this film for Christopher Lloyd, who only truly gets a single scene in the film to shine.

While The Tender Bar is far from a film that will make any kind of lasting impression, it is still a fine enough coming-of-age film to watch in order to waste away an afternoon.

The Tender Bar is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.