The Tender Bar


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Tender Bar
"As Jackson Browne’s My Opening Farewell delivers a lyric about standing before a window, we get a shot of the boy standing before a window. Did Clooney make this in his sleep?" | Photo: Courtesy of London Film Festival

Not many actors cross over into directing as well as George Clooney, who, with titles like Leatherheads and Good Night, And Good Luck to his name, has plenty to be proud of, so it’s a shame to see him churning out insipid material like this for Amazon. Adapted from the memoir by JR Moehringer, The Tender bar is a coming of age story set in Long island which opens with narration so twee that at first one imagines one must be watching a spoof. Alas, that is not the case, and whilst this film is so thick with pretension that it affords unintentional comedy value throughout, it is, in its essence, quite boring.

“You always remember fucking up and you don’t want to,” the narrator decrees at one point, as if petitioning the audience to view the film’s creative team with pity. The actors deserve some respect, though – at least those in supporting roles. Whilst lead Tye Sheridan is the least convincing teenager since Robin Williams in the much more entertaining The World According To Garp - he might be 27 but he could easily pass for 40 – there’s good work from Lily Rabe as his mother and Briana Middleton as the object of his variously unwanted affections. Daniel Ranieri shines as his younger self, though he was a curious choice, as the two look nothing alike – so it’s another of those films where one finds oneself wanting to stick with the cute kid (still innocent enough to engage naturally without noticing how weak the material is) rather than having to endure the inevitable disappointment which comes later. Ben Affleck has received awards notice for his role as JR’s Uncle Charlie, but one is left wondering if that’s simply because of the level of effort required to make his cardboard cut-out character watchable at all.

Uncle Charlie works in a bar called The Dickens, with books piled up behind it. This is why JR decides to be a writer. it’s one of those small town settings where fashion changes slowly, and it’s too wholesome to address what the country is going through politically, so time is established using songs. As Jackson Browne’s My Opening Farewell delivers a lyric about standing before a window, we get a shot of the boy standing before a window. Did Clooney make this in his sleep?

“You’re a writer the moment you say you are,” the film boasts, which seems not only to defeat its own premise but establishes an ethic of laziness which will leave viewers wondering why they should care. JR never seems to do any actual work. He finagles his way into a job at the New York Times only to discover that he has nothing to say. In later life the real Moehringer would win a Pulitzer Prize for his journalism, so why do we have to focus on this period of vacancy? As a young child, he’s diagnosed with a lack of identity, but we don’t see it played and nothing interesting is said about it. We’re told what to think. This is writing in the way that piling lots of bricks on top of each other and hoping they don’t fall over is construction work. Insubstantial though it is, it cannot bear its own weight.

The Tender Bar is also lazy viewing. At no point will you be required to exercise your brain. If, therefore, all you want to do is doze off in front of the screen, you could do worse. It’s handsome enough to look at, in a glossy sort of way. Just don’t snack on anything sweet, because there’s so much sugar here already that you may want to throw up. In the few moments where it approaches dealing with something serious, it lifts its lines from generations of TV movies and there is nothing the actors can do to save it. For most of the running timer, however, it is dreamy and golden and utterly forgettable.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2022
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The Tender Bar packshot
A young man gets taken under the wing of his bar-owning uncle.


London 2021

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