Despite A-list star George Clooney churning out some duds behind the camera, including last year’s pricey The Midnight Sky from Netflix and 2017’s Suburbicon starring Matt Damon, he still should appear on the radar whether he’s starring or directing. Clooney’s latest film, Prime Video’s The Tender Bar, based on the 2005 memoir of the same name, hits the streaming service this weekend. Even though Clooney is still in search of his first high quality directorial effort since 2011’s The Ides of March, this coming-of-age story is still charming enough for anyone to enjoy, thanks in large part to Ben Affleck.
Starting the early 70s, The Tender Bar tells the story of J.R. Moehringer, a boy whose father has been absent most of his life, and, therefore, his mother (Lily Rabe), grandfather (Christophe Lloyd), and uncle (Ben Affleck) collectively look after and care for him. Affleck’s character, Uncle Charlie, tends bar at a local watering hole and has the most influence on J.R., who mostly learns things while spending time with his uncle while he works. Uncle Charlie becomes a father figure who pushes J.R. to, among other things, read books. We watch as J.R. grows over the years from a little boy, going to school, and then trying to get a job after graduating college. During this time, we see him challenged, fall in love, and have brief encounters with his deadbeat father.
The main story in The Tender Bar is a familiar one, which makes it not as special or awards worthy, given the talent assembled both in front of and behind the camera. However, Ben Affleck elevates this film with his performance as a well-intended father figure for the main character as he grows up. While Affleck may not receive the awards buzz that seemed certain a few months ago, the actor himself makes this a must-watch for fans of this genre, era, or merely of the actor himself, thanks to a charming performance that moves the needle. Other actors, including Tye Sheridan, along with Rabe and Lloyd, are good in this film, even if they’re not buzzworthy or noticeably memorable.
While this film sticks to a by-the-books approach in its presentation as a coming-of-age story with predictable outcomes, The Tender Bar comes off more like a drama than most other films in the genre on any given streaming service. It may not be a resounding return to glory for Clooney as a director, thanks to Affleck, it offers just enough warmth to entice its viewers. But be warned: You may wish to build and own a place like The Dickens, the social gathering spot Affleck works at in the film.