[Screen It]


(2021) (Tye Sheridan, Ben Affleck) (R)

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Drama: With an absent father, a boy turned young man looks to his uncle for advice about women, careers, and life in general.

It's the early 1970s and young J.R. Moehringer (DANIEL RANIERI) is moving with his mom, Dorothy (LILY RABE), into her Long Island childhood home where her father, Grandpa Moehringer (CHRISTOPHER LLOYD), haphazardly presides over a household of various family members.

With J.R. only knowing his dad (MAX MARTINI) through hearing the deejay on the radio, he looks up to his uncle Charlie (BEN AFFLECK) -- who runs the local bar -- for fatherly advice. Part of that includes reading as many books as he can, something that instills a desire in the boy to become a writer, although that clashes with his mom's desire that he attend an Ivy League school and then law school.

Years later, J.R. (TYE SHERIDAN) ends up at Yale with one of his roommates, Wesley (RHENZY FELIZ), becoming his best friend, all while J.R. pursues a relationship with classmate Sidney (BRIANA MIDDLETON) who isn't interested in anything serious. As J.R. deals with that and tries to find his way in the world including after graduation, he continues to receive words of wisdom from his uncle.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

When you get to a certain age and decades of lapping that big bright thing in the sky, you never look back on your life chronologically. Of course, that rule might be broken if you're writing an autobiography, but for the most part, views backward hop, skip, and jump through time, mainly touching on the highlights good and bad.

With that in mind, I guess it's ironic that many people -- yours truly included -- often criticize works of fiction for being episodic when they essentially do the same thing when their stories span more than one decade of the main character's life.

Such is the case in "The Tender Bar," screenwriter William Monahan and director George Clooney's adaptation of J.R. Moehringer's 2005 memoir of the same name. I have not read that work so comparisons are moot, including whether the screenplay follows the book in jumping around through time.

Sometimes that storytelling tactic can work quite well while at others it feels, well, loosely anecdotal. That was my reaction to this offering that has its share of solid to terrific moments -- which also holds true for the performances -- but otherwise feels disjointed enough at times to thwart any sense of building momentum towards something great or profound.

The story begins in the 1970s when young J.R. Moehringer (Daniel Ranieri) moves with his mother (Lily Rabe) back into her childhood home with her parents (Christopher Lloyd plays her cantankerous and gassy father), something she views as yet another failure on her part. J.R.'s father (Max Martini) is a boozy, unreliable sort who works as a deejay and has rarely been seen by the boy who he disappoints when he does promise a get-together.

All of which results in J.R. looking up to his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) as his father figure of sorts, and the self-taught and well-read bar owner is happy to dole out gritty but wise life lessons based on whatever the situation might be. If you can imagine Affleck's Chuckie Sullivan from "Good Will Hunting" having grown up and stayed in his hometown after Matt Damon's Will Hunting went on to bigger and better things, you can imagine exactly the sort of character Affleck is playing here (and he's quite good).

J.R.'s mom wants him to attend Yale or Harvard and then attend law school to make a better life for himself, but once he (now played by Tye Sheridan) gets to the former, he decides to become a writer when not partying with his wise roommate (Rhenzy Feliz) and trying to win over classmate Sidney (Briana Middleton) who's fine with flings but not a commitment, at least with J.R.

Of course, that's peppered with return trips to Charlie's bar for more life lessons and sage advice on love, women, and other matters from someone who's been around the block a few times. All of which is fine and dandy in the moment of those particular scenes, but as a collective whole they don't pack as much of an engaging or emotional punch as they do on their own.

While that sporadic nature might play out like real-life memories of the past, it means what could have been a great movie only ends up as good. And for that, "The Tender Bar" rates as just a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed December 20, 2022 / Posted January 7, 2022

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