Occasionally, I’d get a recommendation to watch a film and I’d put it on my list which, to be honest, only seems to get longer and longer, but since my family are all together, my father suggested the film and I thought why not? So we all sat down to watch ‘The Tender Bar’, an Amazon exclusive film. During a discussion with my brother a few nights ago, we agreed that film watching was going to change going into the future and the majority of small films were going to become completely dependent on streaming services.
‘The Tender Bar’ tells the story of young JR, and his single mother who move back in with her parents after struggling for a few years on their own. JR’s father is a radio host and he spends his time listening to the radio, hoping that he will get to forge a relationship with his father. Whilst he searches for that connection, he has support in the form of his maternal uncle, Charlie, who runs a bar called “The Dickens” which is filled with books. JR who is fascinated by this starts reading, and at the recommendation of his uncle decides that he will attempt to start writing. We get to cut back and forth in time, but we see JR applying to prestigious institutes like Harvard and Yale at the behest of his mother. She thinks that he has the potential to become a lawyer, and what starts as a simple dream, quickly becomes a fast reality as JR acquires himself a place at Yale. The finances are paid for by Charlie, who also advises JR on what modules to take. Excited by his new change of life, JR throws himself into university and classes and makes good friends with his two roommates, Wesley and Jimmy. He takes them back home where they meet Charlie and the other regular patrons of the bar. During one of his classes, one of his classmates, Sidney, catches his eye. At a party, the two end up talking and he walks her home. Clearly smitten, the two begin to see more and more of each other, until one day when she invites him to hers for Christmas. At her place, the two sleep together, and the next day she informs him that she’s seeing someone else. JR returns home and we get to see a quickened version of his university life. He eventually graduates and although he’s still keen to become a writer, he has to make ends meet. Will JR ever truly achieve his dream? And what will become of him and Sidney in the end?
So even before this film came out, I had begun to hear good things about it. Apart from the fact that it was directed by George Clooney, a man that I’m sure is going to become my best friend, there were murmurs that it may be eligible for awards. Tye Sheridan plays the role of JR and I personally thought he did an excellent job. I’d previously seen him in the X-men series as Cyclops and in ‘Ready Player One’ which although were good movies to watch, probably didn’t particularly showcase Sheridan’s acting chops. Also gotta give a shout out to Christoper Lloyd who I haven’t seen in anything since the legendary ‘Back to the Future’ films. He plays JR’s grandfather and there are some really good moments where he shines! One, in particular, the ‘Father and Son Breakfast’ scene stuck out to me and I thought it was very heartwarming. However, the standout performance in the film has to be Ben Affleck as Uncle Charlie. Affleck’s certainly had a couple of rough years, but his work in ‘The Tender Bar’ seemingly returns him to a calibre that we know he’s capable of after watching ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Argo’. I will always miss him as Batman, but these were the roles that I think he was born to play.
The film largely has many of the things needed for one of those feel-good biographical films; a decent story, charismatic acting and a heartwarming ending. However, compared to a lot of other films in the same genre, I found that there the stakes weren’t that much. What I mean by that is that the story very rarely causes any emotion other than happiness from watching it. Now breaking this down, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Sometimes you do just want to watch a film and not have to think about the intricacies of the universe, or to consider how you’d survive a zombie apocalypse or even that you wonder if MI6 want to recruit you now that their main agent is down, but at the same time, I feel like there isn’t much to help me remember this film bar the acting. I have heard mutterings that the film may be nominated for a few awards, and I can see why. The screenplay is good and the acting is terrific, but for me, it’s gone down a bit like ‘American Hustle’. Did I rate this film? Yes. Will I watch it again? Unlikely.
The film had decent cinematography. I’m not sure where it was filmed but for the most part, it seemed like it was on location, rather than set. I did like the colour grading of the film, as it definitely added to the happy and retro mood the film was going for. The music, traditionally, in films like this is a make or break factor and I thought it was good. The soundtrack certainly had a lot going for it. Overall, this was a good feel-good film and I’d recommend it to anyone just looking to watch something light. Affleck’s acting was most certainly the highlight, although major kudos to Clooney on his directorial effort!