JR Moehringer (Tye Sheridan) reflects back on his life, from his childhood (Daniel Ranieri) growing up on Long Island. In the absence of his father, he bonds with his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) and the patrons at the bar he runs. With his knack for English, JR pursues a career in writing upon graduation, and tries to find romance with Sidney (Briana Middleton).
Despite a solid launch to his directing career, George Clooney’s more recent efforts have fallen a bit flat. 2017’s ‘Suburbicon’ attempted to revitalise a Coen brothers’ screenplay that had gone way past its sell-by date, while last year’s ‘The Midnight Sky’ (another on demand release, going to Netflix rather than Amazon Prime) suffers from similar issues to ‘The Tender Bar’. Both features are uneven and lack focus.
William Monahan’s script is lifeless and even with some tender moments carried effectively by its able cast, little stays with you. Newcomer Daniel Ranieri is sweet but has little to do but look cute. The screenplay also lets down Tye Sheridan, whose listlessness from college to graduation proves more tiring than sympathetic. Lily Rabe is good, but has little screentime as JR’s mom. Even Christopher Lloyd is underused as Grandpa, and the less said about that farting sequence the better…
There’s a sense of disconnect between the past and further-into-the-past sequences. The “poor boy wants a rich girl” plot line also fails to have an impactful connection. But in the end, it all just seems a bit pointless.
It must be said though that as Uncle Charlie, Ben Afflecks proves by far the most charming element of ‘The Tender Bar’, and does so with little effort. His little life lessons to his nephew about education, masculinity, booze, and life stand out as the highlights of the feature.
Generally speaking though, there’s little of appeal to be found. The conversations lull, with neither party involved seeming all the wiser following the exchange, and the characterisation is vague and uninteresting. Perhaps in its original memoir form, it came across as more “tender” than snoozy. It wants to carry off that easy-going charisma that Affleck’s Charlie conveys but never quite gets there.
'The Tender Bar' is streaming on Amazon Prime from Friday, 7 January.