George Clooney’s new film “The Tender Bar”, which was released on Amazon Prime early in this month, often bored me without leaving much impression on the whole. It is supposed to be a warm, tender, and intimate coming-of-age drama, but the movie only comes to us as a bland and tedious misfire instead, and it also seriously wastes two fairly good performances which deserve better in my inconsequential opinion.
The story, which is based on the memoir of the same name by J.R. Moehrigner, is about Moehringer’s childhood and adulthood memories during the 1970-80s. In 1973, young J.R. (Daniel Ranieri) moved to his grandfather’s house along with his mother Dorothy (Lily Rabe) shortly after her divorce, and he is glad about coming back to his grandfather’s house even though he misses his absent father a bit. The house is never boring for him as being usually full of many other family members besides his grandparents, and his favorite family member is an uncle named Charlie (Ben Affleck), who has run a small local car in the neighborhood.
Young J.R. often comes to Charlie’s bar, and, though he is surely not allowed to drink any booze, he enjoys being around his dear uncle, who willingly encourages his nephew’s interest in reading and writing. After all, the name of his bar came from the author of several books placed in the bar, and he turns out to be quite more perceptive and intelligent than he looks on the surface. At one point, he makes a sincere but sharp comment on his nephew’s little family newspaper, and that certainly makes young J.R. have more confidence about his writing talent.
Meanwhile, young J.R. still misses his father although he knows well how much his mother is sick of her ex-husband. He can only listen to his father’s voice via his father’s radio show, and his father only lets him down after he promises his son to take him to a big baseball game. At least, his father later visits him, but then there is not much conversation between them, and his father soon leaves after having some clash with Charlie, who surely hates his guts for many reasons including the one involved with a little debt between them.
The screenplay by William Monahan could delve deeper into the relationship development between young J.R. and Charlie, but it instead moves onto several years later. J.R., who is played by Tye Sheridan from this point, is now an adolescent boy who is about to apply for the enrollment in Yale University, and he is certainly anxious about whether he will be accepted or not. Even if he is accepted in the end, he really needs the scholarship for studying there, and there is not much possibility for that, but, of course, he eventually receives a letter of acceptance from Yale which also confirms that he will get the scholarship.
What follows next is your typical campus drama. Our young hero studies a lot on literature along with many other students, and then he finds himself hopelessly falling in love with a pretty female student. While she seems to be willing to have a serious relationship with him, it gradually turns out that she is not so particularly serious about him, and J.R. only comes to find himself stuck in his on-and-off relationship with her during next several years. Although his close friends as well as Charlie advise him to get over that girl, he cannot do that at all even when he eventually graduates four years later, and he is certainly heartbroken when he later comes to learn that he cannot meet her anymore.
Unfortunately, the movie does not give us any sense of growth and maturation from its rather colorless hero in the meantime. While I was amused a bit by a brief lecture scene involved with two certain old literature works, I was disappointed as the movie did not go further than that, and I was also dissatisfied with its superficial handling of its young hero’s problematic relationship with that girl. She is pretty and charming indeed, but we can never fully discern why he cannot easily quit her, and this weak problem is further accentuated by the rather weak presence of Tye Sheridan, who can actually give solid performances as recently shown from Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter” (2021) but is sadly stuck with his mediocre character here in this film.
While the movie disappointingly under-utilizes many of its various cast members ranging from Lily Rabe to Christopher Lloyd, its two certain cast members manage to acquit themselves well at least. Ben Affleck, who has become a bit more interesting thanks to several recent good performances including his amusing supporting turn in “The Last Duel” (2021), effortlessly slips into his role from the beginning, and it is a shame that the movie does not focus more on his colorful character’s loving relationship with young J.R. In case of young performer Daniel Ranieri, he does more than holding his own place well among Affleck and several adult performers around him, and he virtually steals the scene from Sheridan at one point later in the story.
On the whole, “The Tender Bar” is another disappointment from its director, and that reminds me of how promising Clooney was as a new filmmaker in the early 2000s. After making a debut with “The Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (2003), he advanced with two Oscar-nominated films “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005) and “The Ides of March” (2011), but he subsequently went downhill with “The Monument Men” (2014) and “Suburbicon” (2017), and “The Tender Bar” only throws more doubt on the current status of his filmmaking career. I do not know what may come next from him, but I can only hope that “The Tender Bar” will be just another low point before he can be back in his element.