The Tender Bar Movie Review & Summary: Ben Affleck Lights the Show in an Otherwise Dull Drama

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Video Source – Amazon Prime Video (Amazon Prime Video YouTube Channel)

‘The Tender Bar’ is an adaptation of the 2005 memoir of the same name by Pulitzer winning journalist J. R. Moehringer.

The Tender Bar Movie Cast

  • Ben Affleck as Charlie Maguire
  • Tye Sheridan as JR Maguire
  • Lily Rabe as Dorothy Maguire
  • Christopher Lloyd as Grandpa Maguire

The Tender Bar Movie Review

‘The Tender Bar’ is an adaptation of the 2005 memoir of the same name by Pulitzer winning journalist J. R. Moehringer. The film follows the story of the 9-year-old JR Maguire (Daniel Ranieri, Tye Sheridan) who moves in with his grandparents, along with his mother, after his parents separate. In the absence of his father, he develops a deep bond with his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) who not only guides him throughout but also, in some way, makes up for the absence created by his father, a radio jockey whose name is never revealed and whose only presence in JR’s life remains through being merely a voice in the radio (although not given a name, the father makes an appearance or two). His mother’s only true ambition in life is to see her precious son as a Yale lawyer. The movie is a coming-of-age story about JR’s childhood and his growing up years while trying to become a successful writer. 

The movie can be divided into two parts where the younger JR is portrayed by Daniel and the college-going guy played by Tye Sheridan. Initially, the movie focuses on the confusion created in the 9-year-old JR Maguire’s mind as he tunes in to the radio to listen to his absentee father, eventually leading to a situation in his life where the idea of his father gets limited to that voice. The question of the father figure remains a constant one till the very end of the movie. Daniel Ranieri gifts some of the warmest moments of the film in his honest and heart touching performance. Coming to heart touching moments, somehow this movie fails at living up to the potential it had for those and gets restricted to the very few scenes in which one can feel anything for the character. Even when equipped with all the tropes of a classic coming-of-age story, with the confused protagonist dealing with daddy problems and struggling to find a strong foot on all fronts, ‘The Tender Bar’ under-delivers on the promise of a soulful heart-warming drama. 

While Daniel Ranieri’s portrayal of JR provides for some of the strongest points of the movie, the same cannot be said once he departs and his place is taken by Tye Sheridan in the role of the older JR Maguire. For his credit, Tye tries but even at moments where we will be expected to feel strongly for what’s happening with the character, there’s always something that steals away the spark of the moment. To name it, it’s the lack of attention and time taken to develop the situation. What results from this precarious handling is that even events which are supposed to create an impact in the life of poor JR, feel uneventful, resulting in a movie filled with similar uneventful occurrences at large. Trying to be funny in exactly the wrong situations is another Achilles heel. In the end, ‘The Tender Bar’ becomes a good example of how not to involve humour in your script, for what the movie achieves through employing humour is very little compared to what it sacrifices. Somehow, the impact left behind is not as deep as the writers would want to. ‘The Tender Bar’ from a story point of view is concerned with JR’s journey from being the vulnerable confused boy to the finally resolved human being he ends up becoming (the climax not being really a spoiler for a “coming of age” movie). However, the way this story plays out on the screen is not rewarding and engaging, adding to the crisis of innovation this movie suffers from. 

Ben Affleck's Uncle Charlie in The Tender BarBen Affleck's

Ben Affleck’s Uncle Charlie in The Tender Bar

While there is not much substance for the audience to hold onto, the true delight of this movie comes in the form of Ben Affleck’s Uncle Charlie. He is a bar owner, who runs a bar named Dickens (named after Charles Dickens), and becomes the guide, mentor, friend and guardian angel to young JR. Apart from giving lessons on “man science”, he introduces him to reading, to Orwell and in some way, to alcoholism. Ben Affleck charms his way in to every scene he appears in and it’s almost difficult to not love him in the role. Young JR’s moments with Uncle Charlie make up for some really enjoyable time on the screen. But unfortunately, while Ben Affleck provides his charm and smooth dialogue delivery to elevate every scene he appears in, the scenes without him are so lacklustre that his absence is felt much more deeply. Almost like George Clooney wanted to make the audience feel the way JR feels in the absence of his father. An honourable mention must go to Christopher Lloyd who makes a brief appearance as JR’s grandfather. Another saving grace is the movie’s soundtrack which does its best to add to the 1970s and 1980s setting in which the story takes place. The bar in the title, owned by Charlie Maguire and filled with good Samaritans always eager to back JR up with a drink to celebrate even the minute of his achievements, provides the venue for a lot of events. The “tender” in the title obviously alludes to the important role this bar plays as a recurring character in JR’s life, almost becoming a second home where he is showered with support and encouragement by Charlie and other frequent visitors of the bar. 

One of the curses of this movie is its failure in evoking any emotion for the success or the failure of its protagonist. The movie has its moments of warmth and emotion but if seen from a distant vantage point, it becomes tough to connect with the character’s true motivations and purpose even though it’s clear for the viewer to notice what these are. Somehow one can empathize with JR without rooting for him or caring for what ends up happening to him. For JR, whose name stands for “Junior”, constantly reminding both the character and the audience of the Senior (the father) who has never really been there for him, the place where he ends up at the farther end of the run-time feels like a dissatisfying ordeal for the viewer and injustice towards the character due to the empty, hollowed-out way his life comes off on the screen. 

The Movie Culture Synopsis

Even though Ben Affleck and Daniel Ranieri try to save the sinking ship, they, unfortunately, fall short to do it in time. For a moment or two, the chemistry between Tye Sheridon and Briana Middleton (Sidney, the love interest of JR) lights a small fire somewhere, but then that also becomes a cause the writers were too quick to abandon. It is easy to comprehend from the title that eventually people have been “tender” towards dear Junior, however, it would have been much better if I could have left feeling the same in the end.

Maybe in an alternate universe, it could have made a difference, only if the makers were not too insistent on trying so hard at making that happen throughout the movie with the constant reminders and excessive emphasis on the sad affair of things in JR Maguire’s life. For this film, “Show and not tell” could have been just the motto the makers needed.