The Tender Bar

The Tender Bar

In Theatres: 
Dec 22, 2021

Good or bad, it’s our families that shape us during our early childhood years. For many, that includes memories of picnics, holiday gatherings, and general good times. But for some children, they’re the ones who are constantly chasing those experiences they never had, even well into adulthood. The Tender Bar is the coming-of-age story of author and journalist J.R. Moehringer. Grounded by performances by Ben Affleck and Tye Sheridan, the film delivers the cliff notes version of Moehringer’s life. It has its tender moments, but director George Clooney struggles at pulling the necessary heartstrings.


Life for the Moehringer family has never been easy with multiple generations living under the same roof belonging to Grandpa Moehringer (Christopher Lloyd). It was going to be different for Dorothy (Lily Rabe), but circumstances change and she finds herself and her son J.R. moving back into her dad’s house with J.R.’s dad out of the picture. J.R. finds himself learning the rules of life from his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) who runs a small bar in town, pushing J.R. to break the family habit and build something out of his life.


The Tender Bar is your typical coming-of-age genre film with a focus on the father figure, in this case Affleck’s Charlie. J.R.’s real father works as a radio announcer and is often referred to as “The Voice” who J.R. constantly tries to find and listen to on the radio just to have any kind of connection. Even his name, J.R., brings up trauma relating to his father because he isn’t a Jr. and everyone always asks him what his initials stand for, to which he never has a straight answer. Charlie is one of the few good things J.R. has in his life, giving him books to read and good life advice to follow. The film often jumps around from the past when J.R. was just a little boy to the present when he’s trying to get into college or get a decent job, and the transitions can be abrupt, especially when it comes to Tye Sheridan’s version because it takes a moment to recognize which moment of time you’re in. Is he at Yale yet or working at The New York Times? Where is he with his on again, off again love interest? The cuts between periods can be jarring, even though the overall story follows the standard formula.


There’s no doubt that the real J.R. Moehringer is a fascinating person who has lived an interesting life so far, but The Tender Bar struggles with keeping interest. It feels too by-the-book, although I will admit that I’m curious to actually read the autobiographical memoir the film is based on to see the differences. The film is too clean cut as it transitions from one pivotal moment to the next and doesn’t give audiences enough time with the characters to truly care about any of them. The down moments are followed too closely by the ups, so there never is that emotional impact and payoff.


The Tender Bar is just a collection of memories sandwiched together in a film. It’s not a bad film, but it doesn’t have the emotional weight to make it a great one, either. It drives straight down the middle of the road, rarely delivering any memorable highs or lows for a relatively mediocre experience.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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