REVIEW: The Tender Bar

 What I learned from The Tender Bar is that apparently everyone needs an Uncle Charlie.  The problem is that I don't know why we all need an Uncle Charlie.  Based on a memoir (because all of the writing money is in memoirs), the film follows JR (the young version is played by Daniel Ranieri, and the older version is played by Tye Sheridan).  He and his mother (Lily Rabe) end up moving in with her father (Christopher Lloyd), and this is where his Uncle Charlie lives (Ben Affleck).

Now, why is it that we all need an Uncle Charlie?  Simply put, it's because the film's narrator says we do.  While watching the film, I never actually saw anything that would make Charlie special or so important.  Young JR thinks the world of him, but I don't understand why.  We are told that is the case, despite what we see.  The only thing that Charlie seems to stand out for is telling young JR what his view of a 'man' is.

This film, you see, is an exercise in 'tell, don't show.'  So many elements are words spoken from the narrator or characters that the actual film ignores.  We are specifically told that young JR is very smart, but the only evidence we have of that is that he can help solve a word puzzle.  We are told that an older version has a drinking problem, despite never seeing a single scene in the entire film that would portray that.  He wants to be a writer, but there is never any passion shown for it.  When he is told by his Uncle Charlie that if he reads enough books he can become a writer, the narrator says, 'it was at that moment I knew I wanted to become a writer,' but there is nothing that shows why that would be the case.

Thankfully, some of the performances are alright.  Ben Affleck is trying hard here, but the script isn't creating anything captivating.  Lily Rabe is giving what she can to a one note character.  Christopher Lloyd's character is so underbaked and irrelevant that it feels like a crime.  A comedic genius with an incredible career is reduced to sitting on a chair and saying that someone else farted.

I was really hoping for a lot here.  Directed by George Clooney, I thought this would be a thoughtful stroll through transitioning from boyhood to becoming a young adult.  The cast alone was a good reason to expect something worthwhile.  Watching a movie with so much talent attached to it hurts when you know it should have been so much better.

Maybe the main issue with The Tender Bar is that I don't actually like JR.  When he goes to college, he is a lifeless person without any real visible passion or motivation.  But, of course, we know he is passionate and motivated because someone said that earlier in the movie.  Yep, forget what you're seeing on the screen, the importance is in the script telling us instead of showing us.  This is supposed to be a movie about someone with a lower class childhood who makes something of themselves, which makes it feel like it should be called Long Island Elegy.

The older JR has an odd relationship at Harvard with Sidney (Briana Middleton).  I wish I could use a better descriptive word, but odd really hits it well.  She is dating someone, and he likes her.  They date and she invites him to her family's house for Christmas.  She tells him the next day that she 'thinks' she is seeing someone else.  JR later says he wants nothing to do with her, with the very next scene indicating he was chasing her while nothing had happened to bring about that change.

The worst scene that tried to show JR as a rough around the edges person who came from a lower class family was him eating breakfast with Sidney and her parents (this still happened even though she told him she 'thought' she was seeing someone else).  Suddenly, JR starts talking with his mouth full of food in an over the top obnoxious manner, maybe the second worst eating scene in a film (only outdone by mac and cheese in Malcolm & Marie).  

It was clear that Clooney was doing this to illustrate how he and Sidney were from different social classes, but it is a massive failure.  From the horrible mouth chewing to how JR talks to her parents, the entire seen just creates behaviours that we have not once seen from JR, all to prove a point in aggravatingly poor fashion.

I suppose this is Clooney showing us something about JR instead of telling us, which is what I was complaining about.  If this is how he does it, things may actually be better off with sticking to the narration and expository dialogue informing us.  I thought perhaps it was just me that was annoyed and baffled by that breakfast scene, but my dear friend and podcast co-host Christopher had the same reaction.  As mentioned, I didn't like the JR character, and this really curious breakfast scene made me absolutely hate him.

There are times when it is easy to get excited about a movie by looking at its IMDB page.  The proof be in the pudding, though, and this would be a pudding I would send back to the kitchen.  This was not an absolutely horrible viewing experience, but it was a pointless one.  Walking away from The Tender Bar, I gained nothing from the experience.  It wasn't a waste of time, but it wasn't a good use of it.  

Rating - 2 out of 4 stars