tender bar

Director: George Clooney
Writer: William Monahan
Cast: Ben Affleck, Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe, Tye Sheridan
Cinematographer: Martin Ruhe
Editor: Tanya M. Swerling
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

Everyone in The Tender Bar, George Clooney’s sepia-soaked adaptation of JR Moehringer’s bestselling memoir of the same name, is endowed with the wisdom that only experience brings. Their age is irrelevant, they’re each able to take stock of their lives, their morals and their priorities with a blunt, often painful honesty that makes the film’s observations so striking. Whether it’s the young JR (Daniel Ranieri), parroting the words of his therapist to his estranged father, fully realizing only years later how children internalize the blame for their parents’ failings, or uncle Charlie (an endearing Ben Affleck), his role model who’s developed what he calls ‘male sciences’ or moral codes for men to live by — each of these characters is refreshingly self-aware. If all this makes the film sound deadly serious, it’s not. A thread of cheeky humour snakes through The Tender Bar and humorous lines are made even funnier by virtue of being delivered with full earnestness.

Despite being based on a writer’s memoir and tracing the life of an emerging writer, the film, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, doesn’t have a writerly quality to it. It isn’t overly staged. Instead, scenes unfold naturally and unselfconsciously. JR’s life story is made up of a series of vignettes, from his days spent at Charlie’s bar to his love for literature that he picks up for his uncle to his mother’s dreams of sending him to Yale to become a lawyer, to him being accepted to Yale and deciding to pursue writing instead. That these events don’t play out with a heightened tension or drama points to the maturity that only comes with hindsight.

The film remains resolutely dedicated to maintaining its feel-good charm, deliberately keeping its stakes low throughout. Though JR is said to suffer from an identity crisis and a tendency to act out during his childhood, this is only briefly referenced, with the absence of his father during his formative years having left no other lasting impact on him. The warmth and affection of his extended family, and even the regulars at the bar Charlie works at, do such a great job at filling the void in his life, it’s hard to remember if there was even one to begin with. Even when JR’s mother (Lily Rabe) gets cancer, it only takes a few scenes for her to recover. The Tender Bar doesn’t milk its melodrama, but treats the life events of its characters as mere showcases for wit, persistence and steeliness. What is growing up to a writer after all, but a set of events to eventually be immortalized?

Recommendation in collaboration with Amazon Prime Video

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