'The Tender Bar' Review: A sentimental but rushed coming-of-age story
A coming-of-age story, 'The Tender Bar' is based on the memoir by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist JR Moehringer. The movie tells the story of JR (played by Daniel Ranieri and later by Tye Sheridan) and his journey from a boy to a man and those who shaped him into who he is.
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Crammed into 1 hour and 46 minutes, the movie wastes no time into setting up the context. After his father abandoned their family, JR and his mother are left with no option but to move back in with his grandfather, much to his mother's chagrin. Living in her family home is a sign of failure, but to a young JR, who seems to have lacked a stable family home, he welcomes the change.
JR's family is an interesting one -- his grandfather (Christopher Lloyd), a Dartmouth graduate is now no more than a senile man, his mother (Lily Rabe) had to drop out of college due to her pregnancy and of course, Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), a bibliophile bartender who has the most profound impact on a young JR.
Uncle Charlie ultimately shapes JR into the man he becomes, along with the regulars at his bar, Dickens. It certainly panders to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, reinforcing that JR is who he is because of the adults around him. The movie heavily relies on sentimentality, with JR's mother's constant need for him to go to Yale and be successful, combined with his desire to achieve some form of success as a writer.
Ultimately, JR goes back to what plagued him as a child, his sense of identity, his idea of success and his relationship with his father. How he deals with each of these is an ode to Uncle Charlie's advice much earlier on in life, with JR ultimately finding his path as a writer. The movie ends with JR taking the path that would eventually lead him to become a renowned author. The star-studded cast doesn't do the movies too many favours, as most of the performances come off as rather dry, but then again, this could circle back to the fact cramming an entire memoir into a movie seldom gives the characters a chance to establish themselves. 'The Tender Bar' makes for an easy watch, with its short vignette style and familiar character tropes, even if the transition from JR's childhood to adulthood seems abrupt.
'The Tender Bar' is streaming on Amazon Prime Video from January 7, 2022.