Friday, December 24, 2021

The Tender Bar Review: Ben Affleck Shines In A Heartfelt Coming of Age Story

Release Date: December 22, 2021
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Directed By: George Clooney
Written By: William Monahan
Ben Affleck (Argo, Good Will Hunting), Tye Sheridan (Mud, The Card Counter), Lily Rabe (Miss Stevens, “American Horror Story”), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, I Am Not a Serial Killer), Max Martini (13 Hours, “The Order”), Rhenzy Feliz (“Runaways,” “American Horror Stories”), Briana Middleton (Augustus, Sharper), Max Casella (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Jackie), Sondra James (“Sick of It,” Joker), Michael Braun (“The Sinner,” “The Affair”) and newcomer Daniel Ranieri.

In 1972, 9-year-old J.R. Maguire (Daniel Ranieri, later Tye Sheridan) spends hours scanning the airwaves for The Voice, his name for the radio deejay father who deserted him and his mom years earlier. As he dreams of the day when they can be reunited, he and his fiercely protective mother Dorothy (Lily Rabe) live with her family in his curmudgeonly grandfather’s (Christopher Lloyd) rundown house in Manhasset, Long Island, both working tirelessly to fulfill her dream of an Ivy League education for J.R.  Hungry for male attention, the boy finds comfort at the nearby Dickens pub, where the man behind the bar is his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck). A self-educated truth-seeker with a closet full of classic books and a thirst for knowledge, Charlie takes the boy under his wing, encouraging J.R.’s aspirations of becoming a writer. As J.R. grows to young adulthood with sporadic contact with his birth father, Charlie guides him through the mysteries of manhood and includes him in bowling nights, ball games and trips to the beach with his loyal band of quirky friends.

The Tender Bar has a lot to like about it, starting with the great cast.  Although this is an all star setup, and Tye Sheridan does a great job as J.R. in his journey of discovery, the real star of this show is Ben Affleck.  His bartender character is endearing and enjoyable, with a father-like quality and a ton of relatability.  I really liked how he was tough, but also fair to J.R. and lent his ear to the young man and his friends.  He also was a character full of surprises, with a lot more going on than you originally expect.  The film also really sets the 1972 tone with some great music.  It uses this soundtrack to set the stage and does a wonderful job transporting you to this time.  And the film also has a ton of heart, as you would expect in a journey of self discovery. I loved seeing J.R.'s family helping him out and trying to guide him along on his journey.  

But the issue with the Tender Bar is the length of the story.  It's not just a pure duration, but it feels like the story goes through several arcs, some of which don't feel entirely necessary.  I enjoyed the journey for the most part, but it did seem to go on a little too long.  And on top of that, after this longer journey, you don't really end up with a satisfying conclusion.  I guess this is because the film is based on a memoir, so staying true to that original medium and life are an important aspect, but it really did feel like the film just ended.  You didn't get a great revelation, you don't really know what happened after (though you could look it up), the film just kind of concludes without much fanfare.  And maybe this should be applauded as the movie didn't try to go for a Hollywood ending, but for a viewer I left feeling unfufilled.

The Tender Bar is a film that will warm your heart, showing a coming of age story with an unconventional family environment and a loving, extended family.   

Rent it.

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The Tender Bar is playing in select theaters on December 22, 2021 and on Amazon Prime on January 7, 2022.  For showtimes, click here.

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