Relatable on several fronts, we dove into The Tender Bar with an open mind and low expectations, realizing the approach has been done near to death but buoyed by Ben Affleck’s rejection of whatever superhero movie he’d been forced into lately – and the fact that George Clooney was directing.
The set-up here is simple and familiar: a serial single mother retreats to the safety of her family’s rundown Long Island home with her son in tow, a guileless kid with no athletic or social skills but an appreciation for reading and the written word. Dad isn’t in the picture and, in fact, the kid makes up names for the Jr. he carries in order to blunt the curious.
As good as Junior’s mom is (Lily Rabe) every boy needs a dad, right? In this case the male figure in Junior’s life become his supernaturally flatulent grandfather (Christopher Lloyd) followed by his super-literate bar-owning Uncle Charlie (Affleck) who laconically goes about teaching The Kid the facts of life according to Charlie. It helps that Charlie runs a book-lined bar named The Dickens (get it?) and Junior soon finds himself planted on a barstool swilling free cokes and holding court with a bar full of colorful losers who take a liking to him and step in as half-uncles.
A good uncle movie may seem just the ticket during unsettled times and Tender Bar is a good entry, if all-Affleck, despite the fact that there are others out there like “Uncle Frank,” discussed here earlier. It’s the good uncle’s job to tell you about the ins and outs of life and how to navigate the rocky parts. Affleck does a great job saying his lines with a Bostonian clip that makes you forget you’re supposed to be in Long Island.
Make no mistake, the writing is good and the dialogue is crisp but we were thinking by this point that we knew where we were going as an older Junior fulfills his mother’s wish for him to go to Yale and a romantic interest goes awry. We don’t know how closely William Monahan’s script follows J.R. Moehringer’s memoir but we were drawn by the character’s attempt to gain a foothold in Big City journalism, and suffer along with JR at his rejection.
Our hero retreats to The Dickens, his home away from home, and the protective, worldly wisdoms of Affleck and backup barflies Max Casella and Michael Braun. Ultimately, Uncle Charlie comes through with a Good Will Hunting moment that provides the ending the story needs.
Now playing in select theaters and available on Amazon.
Our Recommendation: See it, for Affleck’s performance if nothing else.
Best Lines: “What’s the upper middle class?”
“The people who think they’re rich. The actual rich you never see… they hide so people won’t kill them.”
The Tender Bar
Rated R with frequent F-bombing. 1 hr 46 mins. 2 drink minimum.