The Tender Bar Review: Ben Affleck's exquisite performance shines bright in 'relaxed' daddy issues narrative

Updated on Jan 08, 2022 12:49 AM IST  |  260.9K
   
The Tender Bar Review
Ben Affleck and Tye Sheridan star as Charlie Moehringer and J.R. Moehringer in George Clooney's The Tender Bar.
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The Tender Bar

The Tender Bar Cast: Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe, Christopher Lloyd

The Tender Bar Director: George Clooney

Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video

The Tender Bar Stars: 3/5

The Tender Bar Review 1

"And just my luck, publishing was headed toward memoir."; Any time Ben Affleck appeared in George Clooney's The Tender Bar, it was very reminiscent, for me, of Shah Rukh Khan's delightful performance in Dear Zindagi. In both these stints, there's a parallel level of acting maturity from terrific actors that comes beaming through on-screen and you can't help but be dazzled by the fictional genius of it all! But, did the rest of The Tender Bar feel like our favourite drink at the bar after a hard day's work? Let's find out!

Based on J. R. Moehringer's 2005 memoir of the same name, the coming-of-age drama centers on our protagonist, J.R. Mehringer's (newcomer Daniel Ranieri plays a young J.R. and Tye Sheridan takes over the adult J.R.) daddy issues and how he finds a father figure in his dilettante Uncle Charlie Moehringer (Affleck). While his scumbag of a father, known as "The Voice" (Max Martini) on the radio, that J.R. heartbreakingly tries to form a spiritual bond with, he lives out the ambitious dreams of his despondent, wistful yet cheerful mother, Dorothy Moehringer (Lily Rabe), whose broken dreams force her to cohabitate with her inconspicuous father (Christopher Llyod) and mother (Sondra James) in Long Island town, Manhasset.

The Tender Bar Review 2

Good thing for J.R. though; Uncle Charlie is like his own version of Peter Pan, who teaches him the whims and fancies of what it is to be a man and more importantly, it's Charlie who introduces him to the magical world of books. Intriguingly, Charlie also owns a Long Island bar named Dickens, where books overflow in the same capacity as the booze and the crowd is "actually" just a bunch of nice guys. It's here where J.R. gets to learn about life, discuss literature and also seek comfort as an adult from Charlie. After getting accepted to Yale to study law and fulfilling his mom's dreams, a recurring on-off relationship with the philandering Sidney (Briana Middleton) plays a precursor to J.R.'s life goals as a writer.

As I mentioned before, The Tender Bar belongs to Ben's exquisite performance as he adds a sense of intimate emotional quotient to Uncle Charlie. There isn't much of a characters sketch or a backstory of why Charlie is the way he is, but that doesn't really matter. It's almost like Affleck is trenching into a new acting era with the best yet to come! Nevertheless, Charlie will be an unforgettable character for many. On the other hand, Tye relies on a more restrained, observant performance as we see his journey through Yale and even a writing stint at The New York Times. There's a twinkle in Sheridan's expressive eyes that helps establish J.R.'s conflicted state of mind. On the other hand, Daniel delivers a blazingly subtle performance as a young J.R., where you're captivated in even the most mundane of scenes. A particular impactful sequence happens when a young J.R. encounters the adult J.R. in a drunken, hazy dream and in spite of looking nothing alike, Sheridan and Ranieri mirror the other's subconscious elegantly. Ben manages to share amicable camaraderie with both versions of the J.R., that's crackling to watch unfold with time.

The Tender Bar Review 3

When it comes to the women, Lily and Briana's characters are mere plot points to drive J.R.'s narrative, but still make a mildly considerable, if not fleeting, 'charming' impact. Even Rhenzy Feliz as J.R.'s Yale mate Wesley is a crackling presence, in a limited timeframe, as his close friend's 'real' voice of reason, rather than the overused narration shtick in any memoir adaptations (Here, Ron Livington lends his voice as a present J.R.!). Max Casella, Michael Braun and Matthew Delameter, as the ragtag Dickens' regulars Chief, Bobo and Joey D, are a hoot to watch, especially when they bond with J.R., while Bill Meleady's short cameo as a priest on the train that regularly encounters J.R. fills the quota of breezy breather sequences.

What makes The Tender Bar a surprisingly pleasant watch is that there really isn't a "cause and effect" motion stirring for any of the characters. No real drastic change really occurs at any point and there isn't a grand existential crisis solved. Instead, it's exactly how a memoir-turned-big-screen adaptation, that spans over 15 years in '70s backdrop, would seem like in real time. In what seems like chapters, J.R.'s life is treated in a realistic and less dramatic undertone, where not everything tends to work out. And you know what, that's okay too! George Clooney's direction; though some would find it a humdrum, mundane maze, I found to be quite profound. The Tender Bar feels less of a memoir and more of a love letter to Uncle Charlie from J.R. and maybe that's exactly what the real life J.R. and Clooney were aiming for.

ALSO READ: PICS: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez look truly, madly and deeply smitten in love at The Tender Bar premiere

With a slow burn narrative like in The Tender Bar, William Monahan's screenplay elusively truncates it to J.R.'s identity crisis. It's as simple as using "." in his name and the confusion surrounding it; does it signify an abbreviation for a longer name or is it simply Junior, which in turn is related to his abandoning father? More importantly, The Tender Bar, set in the '70s is extremely loud yet quiet about its backdrop and setting. Martin Ruhe's discreet cinematography, Kalina Ivanov's ultra-fine production design (Boston makes for a good Long Island) and Dara Taylor's "classic tunes" music never overshadow the main hero of the story; its humble characters.

In finality, The Tender Bar, for me, is an extremely "tender" and intelligent take where Ben Affleck's Uncle Charlie, the uncle we wish we had, has the cake and eats it too!

 

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