The Tender Bar is based on the novel and bestselling memoir by JR Moehringer. It follows JR as he comes of age in the early seventies amongst his extended family in Long Island, NY. An absent father opens the door for an relationship with JR’s Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck). Uncle Charlie owns the local watering hole complete with bar regulars, indoor cigarettes, and Charles Dickens novels lining the walls .
Daniel Ranieri is clever and sweet as Young JR, his big eyes full of wonder from the first frame. Trying to connect with his father, JR tunes in to his radio show (he’s known as The Voice), only to be disappointed again and again. His need for a father figure brings him under his uncle’s wing (aka the bar), where he relishes in Uncle Charlie’s experience and advice.
The characters aren’t entirely unique, but they do share some affectionate qualities. Christopher Lloyd plays JR’s grandfather, a rough but touching symbol of the glue that holds family together. JR’s mom (Lily Rabe) is the dreamer, never giving up hope for her son’s future.
But when JR grows up and is played by Tye Sheridan – the emotional grip loosens. We lose sight of young JR’s hopeful brown eyes (literally, Sheridan’s eyes are blue). Instead, we are thrown quickly into a predictable scenario where JR is interviewing for a spot at Yale, achieving his mother’s dreams. We all know he’s going to get in.
George Clooney directed this – but I didn’t get a feeling of a particular style. Ben Affleck is really good, even with his confusing accent. His swagger proves there’s a lot going on under the surface, but he shifts his responsibility dutifully for the family. The Tender Bar is a sweet coming of age story, with room for more living.