The Reel Review
Abandoned by his father as an infant, a young boy growing up on New York’s Long Island in the 1970s and 80s finds an unexpected father figure in his bar-owner uncle in this George Clooney-directed, coming of age drama starring Ben Affleck, Lily Rabe and Tye Sheridan. The Amazon original film is an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir.
Featuring an assortment of songs from the period, spot-on costuming and solid production design, Clooney does a fine job capturing the look of the era. It’s a nice slice of 1970s and 80s Americana. And the performances by Affleck as Uncle Charlie, Rabe (American Horror Story) as J.R.’s mother and Daniel Ranieri as a young J.R., while brief, are all well done with some really touching moments. One scene in particular, with a vastly underutilized Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), is a real tearjerker.
But in the film’s second half, with Tye Sheridan (Dark Phoenix, Ready Player One) portraying J.R. as a young adult, the story from William Monahan (The Departed) completely runs out of gas, as J.R. navigates college, his first love, his burgeoning writing career and his mean-spirited, absentee biological father. There is a disappointing, phoned-in quality to the story that leaves one wondering how a screenplay about a best-selling author can itself be so tediously slow and boring.
• The Tender Bar is the second collaboration between George Clooney and Ben Affleck, who won the Best Picture Oscar for producing 2012’s Argo.
• In 2000, novelist and journalist J.R. Moehringer won the Pulitzer Prize for newspaper feature writing. A resident of the Bay Area of San Francisco with his wife and their two children, it was announced in 2021 that he will be ghostwriting what is expected to be a controversial, tell-all memoir from Britain’s Prince Harry.
• Although set in Long Island, The Tender Bar was filmed in Massachusetts.