The Tender Bar is very much the type of film we’ve seen before, and, unfortunately for George Clooney‘s well-meaning dramedy, it’s been done better than what this narrative ultimately presents.
A coming-of-age story where the protagonist overcomes his or her personal and professional struggles to achieve ultimate success, all the while guided by a wise mentor, is a trope in of itself adhered to in the most standard of fashions, where the only worthy ingredient involved in Clooney’s film is Ben Affleck.
As Charlie, a Long Island bartender who pours just as much wisdom as he does liquor, Affleck injects The Tender Bar with the spark it needs to stay investing, with the majority of the film so underwhelmingly middle-of-the-road that it needs as much of Affleck’s charm as humanly possible. He’s the uncle to young J.R. (played as a child by Daniel Ranieri and a young adult by Tye Sheridan), a hopeful writer who hasn’t entirely recovered from the abandonment of his father (Max Martini) in his childhood.
Mother dearest (Lily Rabe, doing what she can with pretty thankless material) hopes that a brief stint back under her own father’s roof (Christopher Lloyd, always a pleasure to see on screen) will be enough to jumpstart her own life too, and the change of scenery seems to treat J.R. well, with much of the film devoted to how his wise uncle’s musings assisted him as he got older.
After such a promising start to his directorial career with efforts like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck, it’s a shame to see Clooney’s stance behind the camera dwindle so much. Whilst there’s nothing flat-out terrible about The Tender Bar, it’s just so mediocre that audiences are likely to end up at the film’s final destination long before it gets there itself; the voice-over narration which sound like outtakes from The Wonder Years not helping matters either.
Though J.R. finding his way as a writer is what the film should have us care about – which doesn’t prove as interesting, with Sheridan a rather bland lead – it continually circles back around to Affleck’s Charlie, the actor injecting character into an archetype we’ve seen countless times before, consistently elevating the material when given the chance; though this isn’t on par with his delightfully wicked work in The Last Duel, he has been rightfully awarded a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s ceremony for the compelling work he’s so often undervalued for.
A film that goes through the motions, and doesn’t seem to want to do anything more, The Tender Bar is harmless fluff that even Affleck, stellar as he is, can’t save from stifled commonplaceness, try as he might.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Tender Bar will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from January 7th, 2022.