Movie Review – The Tender Bar (2022)

Grab your pens, 3.5 readers. It’s time for a review of a movie based on a writer’s memoir.

I have to say this up front. I generally hate most stuff on Amazon Prime with a passion. More to the point, I have becoming increasingly disgusted by most streaming media TV shows in recent years. At first, platforms like Netflix were challenging the status quo, picking up ideas that didn’t quite fit the formulaic box of network TV and making bank on it but now I feel like a new quasi-network system of standards is being adopted by the streaming services, one where every show is designed by committee so as to not offend and in so doing, it just becomes toothless drek. Amazon, IMO, is the worst offender.

But I digress.

This movie is actually quite good. It’s a coming-of-age tale and generally I despise those too, but this one was different. I know they all say they are different but this one is.

JR (Tye Sheridan) grows up money poor but family rich in the loving but dilapidated home of his grandfather (Christopher Lloyd) with his mother (Lilly Rabe) and full-time bartender/part-time philosopher Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck.) The missing piece of the puzzle is JR’s biological father, “The Voice” (Max Martini) a smooth-talking radio DJ who ran out on his mother years ago, leaving young JR to sit by the radio and listen to the only connection he has to his wayward patriarch.

Disappointed with herself for choosing a tryst with a bum over her college education (she had to drop out when JR was conceived), Mom vows she won’t let her son make the same mistake, pushing him to get good grades at school and urging him to do what it takes to get into Yale, which he does, almost through his mother’s sheer willpower.

Alas, when he hits the Ivy League, JR finds himself as the proverbial fish out of water. He isn’t a blue blood. He doesn’t come from money. He doesn’t have all the class, sophistication and connections that his classmates have and struggles to fit in.

Thankfully, Uncle Charlie, as a barkeep, has been a people watcher his entire life and gives his nephew an education he can’t find in any school, that being street smarts, how to carry himself, hold his head up high, not let others bring him down and so on.

Ultimately, whether in his childhood or young adulthood, JR finds his uncle’s bar to provide a source of stability and kinship in a very unlikely place. Various down on their luck drunks regale the lad with life lessons, things they wish they had and hadn’t done, more lessons for a kid high on book smarts but low on actual experience. Uncle Charlie and his band of bar bums become a sort of collective father, more so than his actual dad ever was.

And therein lies the crux of the film. Most people run off to NYC or LA or somewhere else in search of fame and fortune because they have nothing to lose. While JR feels the call to run to Manhattan to pursue his dream of becoming a writer, he is torn as he knows he has all the support and love he’ll ever need…right there in The Tender Bar.

Will he leave his loved ones behind and pursue his goal of becoming a famous writer? Will he stick by his family and stay in Long Island, too attached to his loved ones that the thought of leaving them behind pains them? Find out in…sigh, yes, this Oscar caliber film from :::shudder::: Amazon.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Sidenote this is a great performance from Affleck. Ben has definitely made a living on his good looks and it can’t be easy for him to get older. There are a few moments in this film where we see him accept the aging process gracefully and even one where, well, I won’t give it away but there’s an encounter with the Voice where Ben does not get the upper hand.

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