SStarring: Ty Sheridan, Ben Affleck, Lily Rabe, Max Martini, and Christopher Lloyd.
Directed By George Clooney
Where I Watched it: Amazon
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The Plot: JR narrates this coming of age hybrid following your dreams true story, starting out with himself as a young child being raised by his single mother (Rabe), while living with his grandfather (Lloyd), because his dad is a classic douchebag alcoholic that walked out. JR gets most of his male influence from his Uncle (Affleck), who works at a bar called Dickens, and the various men who frequent his establishment. Later, he grows up (Sheridan) and goes to college to hopefully one day be a writer. Spoiler alert: this movie is based on a memoir, so he succeeds.
What Works: Ben Affleck. Going into this film i knew that this was an Oscar contender that the only recognition it seems to be getting is for Affleck’s performance, and rightly so. Affleck has been pushing himself as an actor more and more. He has come a long way from Gigli. Here, he’s a guy who should probably not be a role model, but sees that this young boy has been abandoned by the traditional figurehead for that position, so he makes it his mission to advise JR as much as possible, even if not all the advice is age appropriate.
He’s really starting to show a maturity and understanding with his performances, especially the ones that seem to struggle with addiction, or walk a fine line, and working in a bar, playing a character who likes to drink, I’m sure connects Affleck to his recent struggles much the same way The Way Back did. And through his lived experiences, he brings out a real honesty in his characters that they sometimes lacked in the past.
The rest of the cast does fine work, but I understand why Affleck is getting all the recognition. Martini is scary good in a role we are meant to hate. Sheridan, who has always show promise since his debut in Mud, is given material to work with here that some of his more recent work has undercut him.
Much like Good Night and Good Luck, George Clooney assembled a cast of actors he knew what do do with, and all of them work well in their roles. He does a solid job directing and telling this story, even if it feels unremarkable at times.
What Doesn’t Work: I suppose that’s one of my biggest problems with The Tender Bar , is that it is so bland. Even spiced up with great actors, i still lack understanding of why this needed to be adapted into film. This kids life isn’t that remarkable, nor can Clooney really make it feel like a story you haven’t seen before. I haven’t read the memoir, but this guy didn’t live an extraordinarily different life, or even reach some groundbreaking self discovery. This is just to the left of either your own life, or someone you know. Maybe that’s the point?
But I generally wonder what attracts major talent to a film, and while I can see Affleck being attracted to his role, I’m not sure what drew Clooney to the directors chair, and I’m especially curious why William Monaghan wrote the script, considering he’s a heavy hitter in the screenplay game.
It’s not that this film doesn’t work. Everyone working on this film is doing a band up job making an unremarkable film feel like it has gravitas, but the truth is, I won’t remember this film a year or two from now. I will never have the desire to revisit it. And it will never be anyone’s best work, or favorite project. It’s really good at being just good enough to get positive comments from its critics and audiences, at least those who are OK with spending less than two hours on a film that seems to never explain it’s grand purpose of needing to be adapted in the first place.
There really isn’t much, if anything, you haven’t seen before. It feels incredibly familiar, from being a time capsule, to its moments of coming of age, and exploration of a broken family, as well as a youth being pulled in many different directions in college, between friends, girls, and academic studies. This film could have been written by an algorithm, but instead it was adapted by an Oscar winning screenwriter.
The Blind Perspective: Yes, there was audio description, and it neither was bad enough nor exceptional enough for me to bash it or rave about it. I can say that I was never lost in the story or plot, and therefore it served it’s core purpose.
Final Thoughts: This movie is fine. It’s not great, it’s not going to be historically memorable or relevant years down the line, but right now in this moment, it is a well made movie, featuring solid performances, and its biggest crime is being too familiar and unremarkable. Will Ben Affleck finally get an acting Oscar nomination? Probably not. But i wouldn’t be mad if he did.
Final Grade: B-