The Tender Bar - C
Rated R, 106 minutes
"The Tender Bar" is an unaffected yet sluggish look at some of the influences that can shape a writer. Written by Oscar-winner William Monahan ("The Departed") and directed by Oscar-winner George Clooney, and starring another Batman, Ben Affleck (whose role is a supporting one), it's a rather odd, flat film that's adapted from a memoir of the same name by J.R. Moehringer.
J.R. ("Mud's" Tye Sheridan) is a fatherless boy growing up in the glow of a bar where the bartender, his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), is the sharpest and most colorful of an assortment of quirky and demonstrative father figures. As the boy's determined mother ("American Horror Story's" Lily Rabe) struggles to provide her son with opportunities denied to her -- her son grows up quickly, learning about life, love and how to manage a career.
"The Tender Bar" is a mildly charming, yet uneven film that's loosely based on the life of Pulitzer Prize winning author Moehringer. Moehringer's 2006 book is much better and a highly recommended read, but the movie comes across as nothing special. What's most odd is that Moehringer himself didn't write the screenplay, as he would have a better handle on the story than both Monahan and especially Clooney, who doesn't seem a good fit for the material.
Sheridan's appealing J.R. is the best thing about the film, and while there's certainly a load of interesting characters in the film, including Affleck's Uncle Charlie, who owns the bar that is the subject of the film, none of them, or their connection to J.R., is fully developed. Fine character actress Rabe, as his mother, or rising star Briana Middleton, as his love interest Sidney, are given little to do, and J.R.'s relationship with his deadbeat, alcoholic father (Max Martini) is so unsatisfying that all the script can manage is an "f-you" and a walk away. Even the bar itself, which is supposed to be a sanctuary away from J.R.'s chaotic life, is portrayed as even more loud and chaotic than his family life.
Moehringer's real story, much of it outlined in better detail in his book, is much more interesting with more impact than what Clooney can manage here. All the characters and situations are supposed to provide some sort of inspiration for Moehringer's talent, but the connection never adds up in the end. Considering the talent involved in front of and behind the camera, the unfulfilling "The Tender Bar" is a disappointment and feels slight.
Moehringer is indeed a fine, gifted writer - he helped tennis star Andre Agassi with his biography and was personally chosen by Prince Harry to write his upcoming biography - and he deserves a better movie than this.