Déjà vu all over again. These words perfectly capture the essence of The Tender Bar, a movie that takes us through yet another young man’s coming-of-age journey.
Unfortunately, the film brings nothing new to the table. Directed by George Clooney, The Tender Bar fails to ignite any sense of excitement or novelty, leaving the viewer with a feeling of disappointment. From the tired material to the lackluster direction, the movie falls flat in every frame, showcasing Clooney’s apparent disinterest in the project.
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The Age of the Uncle Movie
We find ourselves in an era dominated by movies centered around uncles. These influential characters come in various stereotypes, ranging from the cool, gay uncle in Uncle Frank to the big-hearted, sensitive uncle in C’mon C’mon.
In The Tender Bar, we encounter the straight-shooting, honest uncle, whose true self becomes tainted by nostalgia. This familiar archetype is portrayed by Ben Affleck, whose presence led me to initially assume the movie was set in Boston.
Uncle Charlie, as Affleck’s character is called, runs a bar on Long Island named The Dickens Bar. However, the film fails to capitalize on the potential of this character, ultimately leaving the viewer longing for more depth.
Daddy Issues and Radio DJs
The central protagonist, JR, played by Daniel Ranieri in an impressive debut performance, grapples with daddy issues intensified by his absent father, a radio DJ known as “The Voice” (Max Martini).
JR finds solace in listening to The Voice on the radio while wondering about his father’s whereabouts. However, the film’s attempts to build emotional tension fall flat, as the repetitive destruction of radios becomes a rather comical element.
The Voice makes sporadic appearances, consistently disappointing young JR and infuriating the older JR, portrayed with disinterest by Tye Sheridan. The movie’s running jokes, including the unresolved mystery behind JR’s initials and Uncle Charlie’s anger towards The Voice due to a meager debt, fail to land effectively, leaving the audience wanting more clever humor.
Clichéd Plotlines and Flat Narration
JR’s mother, portrayed by Lily Rabe, aspires for her son to attend Yale, despite doubts from those around him, including his skeptical grandfather (Christopher Lloyd). These family dynamics play out like a mediocre sitcom, lacking depth and authenticity.
The film follows a predictable path as JR secures a full scholarship to Yale, falls in love with a wealthy woman who takes advantage of his blue-collar heart, and ultimately achieves his dream of becoming a writer, even after being fired by The New York Times for his shallow coverage of The Dickens Bar. The lack of substance and reliance on clichés undermines the potential impact of the story.
One notable issue with the film is the excessive use of narration, which often signals lazy screenwriting. While it may be expected in a memoir adaptation, the redundant narration in The Tender Bar becomes extraneous, as it merely reiterates what is already visible or has just been shown. This choice dampens the impact of the protagonist’s voiceover, hindering the viewer’s connection with the story.
Furthermore, Tye Sheridan’s performance fails to evoke any response, even during the unnecessarily brutal final confrontation with The Voice. The filmmakers seem to rely on the viewer’s emotional investment in the familiar plot elements, rather than creating a compelling narrative themselves.
Ben Affleck’s Standout Performance
Despite the film’s shortcomings, Ben Affleck manages to shine in a thankless role, elevating it beyond its limitations. His portrayal of Uncle Charlie, though not someone you’d want as your uncle, brings a certain charm and charisma.
Affleck embraces the profane dialogue and displays undeniable chemistry with the bar regulars, including Max Casella and Michael Braun. This role has the potential to secure Affleck an Oscar nomination, a predictable outcome considering the Academy’s tendency to favor such performances over more deserving ones in different films.
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In conclusion, The Tender Bar fails to break new ground in the coming-of-age genre. The tired material, lackluster direction, and predictable plotlines result in a lack of excitement and emotional engagement.
Despite Ben Affleck’s standout performance, the film falls short of delivering a truly memorable experience. Clooney’s disinterest in the project is palpable, leaving the audience yearning for more depth and originality.
If you’re in the mood for a familiar tale of self-discovery, The Tender Bar might fit the bill. However, don’t expect any surprises or a truly “feel good” experience.