The Tender Bar review – funny, touching, and self-effacing

By Marc Miller
Published: December 7, 2021 (Last updated: January 2, 2022)
Amazon original film The Tender Bar


The Tender Bar is a feel-good, coming-of-age film with one of Ben Affleck’s best performances.

This review of the Amazon original film The Tender Bar does not contain spoilers. 

The Tender Bar doesn’t have much to say? For God’s sake, get over yourself. Yes, it has its flaws, but it’s based on this boy’s life (pun intended, Leo). Have we become so stuck up that growing up working-class poor and earning a full ride to Yale University is now not the subject of a good movie? George Clooney’s adaptation of J.R. Moehringer’s reminiscences has three things going for it— George Clooney didn’t cast himself, Ben Affleck gives one of his very best performances, and it’s remarkably self-effacing for a memoir.

Moehringer’s The Tender Bar: A Memoir chronicles memories of growing up in a tiny hamlet (yes, a hamlet people!) of Manhasset, NY. He is named J.R. (played as a boy by Daniel Ranieri, a young man by Tye Sheridan, and narrated by Ron Livingston) short for “Junior.” His father is a radio DJ who left him while he was in the womb — he has no idea what he looks like. He is being raised by his mother (played by the invaluable Lily Rabe) in her father’s home (played by the legendary Christopher Loyd).

The only male father figure is his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck). He has an insatiable appetite for reading and runs a bar named after his favorite author, Charles Dickens. He’s always there for him, guiding him through life’s most challenging moments. Including his mom’s cancer, breakups, and making sure his grades stay so high he has a chance to go to college, something he was never able to do.

The Tender Bar is unassuming, modest, and grounded. Yet, the adaptation William Monahan, a man known really for very dark, gritty crime dramas, is stripped of sensationalism, which is a bit of a high wire act to pull off. Clooney and Monahan ensure that Charlie steps in to comfort J.R. to talk to him even in the heartwarming moments. Then, when Sheridan’s J.R. asks his Uncle if he is like his father, there is no sugar coating. He tells him to watch his drinking. It’s surprising and one of the more refreshingly honest moments I’ve seen from a film in a very long time.

Ben Affleck’s Uncle Charlie is one of his best roles. He is the film’s heart, and his turn is never out of character — which has been a crutch of his action film characterization since Armageddon. He and Sheridan are responsible for most comic relief, with Affleck’s reaction shots and timing being genuinely priceless. Even Sheridan is conscious of playing a very modest man who is open about his flaws, which is rare.

Is the film perfect? Of course not. Clooney has been in a tailspin since Good Night and Good Luck. Here, frankly, his choice of songs for the film’s soundtrack and montage moments are overplayed and have been millions of times over. Admittedly it’s a movie that’s been done before, which takes away from a more significant impact the story can make. However, that shouldn’t be enough to discount the film from being an enjoyable experience for casual moviegoers to cinephiles.

The Tender Bar is a feel-good story about a child raised by a village. Clooney’s adaptation has a warm heart with a sense of humor to go along with its circumstances. In other words, it knows what it is and wants to be. That’s a scarce commodity these days in Hollywood.

Amazon Prime Video’s The Tender Bar will be streaming on December 22, 2021. 

Amazon Prime Video, Movie Reviews, Streaming Service