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THE TENDER BAR (2022) review

January 13, 2022


written by: Willian Monahan (screenplay) and J.R. Moehringer (novel)
produced by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov & Ted Hope
directed by: George Clooney
rated: R (for language and sexual content)
runtime: 104 min.
U.S. release date: January 7, 2022 (Amazon Prime)


“The Tender Bar” is one of those films that sneaks up on you, while being one of those films that proceeds exactly as you’d expect. Directed by George Clooney, with a screenplay by William Monahan based on J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir, I defy anyone to not know exactly what the ultimate emotional lynchpin will ultimately be within ten minutes.

But, here’s the thing…It still managed to surprise me. Not in a “holy crap, what did I just watch?” way, but in small, “boy, that feels real” ways.

I’m a sucker for this kind of film. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age films with heavy fatherhood conflict. J.R. Maguire (Tye Sheridan, and played in childhood by Daniel Ranieri) is the child of Dorothy Maguire (Lily Rabe) and absentee and, it’s suggested, abusive father known as “The Voice,” as he’s a well-known Manhattan radio personality and DJ (Max Martini). The film begins with Dorothy and J.R. arriving at her father’s (Christopher Lloyd) home.



Grandpa and Grandma (the late Sondra James) take in the small family, and it’s here that Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) enters the story. Uncle Charlie is a well of lessons in manhood, and he takes J.R. under his wing, holding court to the boy from behind the bar at a dive called The Dickens, so named because of the walls of books therein. The books that will, along with Charlie’s encouragement, become the main inspiration for J.R. future as a writer.

You know where this is going, I know where this is going, but the film is just incredibly winning in how it gets there. All of the family that surrounds J.R. felt intimately familiar to me. Affleck is the MVP here. Uncle Charlie is the kind of role he’s always best in, and Charlie in no small part feels like a drop in on Affleck’s Chuckie Sullivan from “Good Will Hunting” (who I will always say is the heart and soul of that film) twenty-five years later.



Likewise, Lloyd is not in the film much, but the scene where Grandpa steps up when J.R. is faced with a Father/Son breakfast and having no father to call upon is as lovely as any scene of 2021. Lily Rabe never feels less than real as Dorothy’s struggles continue. This ensemble excels without feeling the need to chew scenery.



The film does meander. There’s not a lot of narrative drive, but…isn’t that what life is? I can see how some viewers might become restless with this. A a theatre director I knew once said, “no one pays to see reality,” but frankly, Uncle Charlie’s one-liners and bits of wisdom were enough entertainment value for me. I also liked how various dramatic events transpire, ones that I expected to become large third act plot points, only to be nothing more than narrative speed bumps.

The bottom line is this…I like these people. I felt like I know these people. I’ll also give Monahan and Clooney this compliment; the emotional hook is obvious, but not one of the characters say it out loud. The film trusts you as an audience to see the point. The lesser version of “The Tender Bar” would’ve given us a scene where the obvious subtext was made text.


RATING: ***1/2



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