Who is ready to see George Clooney back in a director’s chair? Honestly, it would probably be much more exciting to see him back in front of the camera, but Amazon brings audiences his latest directorial effort instead. J.R. Moehringer’s popular memoir gets turned into the latest cinematic project for Clooney to sink his teeth into. His track record as a director is not great but this heartwarming and human story just might be the project he needed. Throw in a strong cast of actors and The Tender Bar is born.
What does Clooney bring to the table from a directing perspective? The Tender Bar captures the 70’s and 80’s settings of the film well. There is also a timeless feel to the film with its wall-to-wall soundtrack full of classic rock jams. When the film opened to “Radar Love” by Golden Earring, I knew it was going to be a fun ride. The tone that Clooney crafts is entertaining and easily digestible. There is a great sense of humor about the film featuring plenty of fun characters along the way. Clooney takes a safe and softer approach to the story but there are a few scenes that shine through with their more visceral approach. Overall, the direction makes this an easier watch.
What about the story? This is where the film struggles the most. There is a distinct lack of structure to how the events of the film playout. Clooney tries to balance the narrative through multiple time periods without a lot of rhyme or reason to how it flows. This makes the film feel jumbled at times. The narrative is not well defined either. Where is the story going? What is the end goal? Don’t get me wrong, it is a fun ride trying to find out but most of the time it does not feel like it has a direction. By the end, the story does feel full and satisfying…it is just a struggle along the way. There is a large focus on parental connection and the film can navigate this in a meaningful and emotional way. But what is more of a struggle is when J.R. gets caught up in a futureless romance that never feels like it is worth the time on screen.
But what really rises to the occasion? The cast in this film is quite impressive. For starters, Daniel Ranieri is sweet and adorable as a young J.R. He gets a few moments to shine and is endearing the whole time he is on screen. Tye Sheridan does a fine job for most of his screen time with one scene towards the end of the film where he gets to show a little power and impressive presence on screen. Ben Affleck is getting most of the buzz from this film and that is well deserved because of his charming and layered performance as the cool drunk uncle who is well read and runs a bar. Lily Rabe is the anchor that holds it together for J.R. as his mother and Christopher Lloyd get a few moments to shine as the grumpy grandfather.
Does Clooney deliver this time around behind the camera? This is a genuinely fun and emotional journey on screen. Even if it is muddled, this is an earnest tale of finding the parental figures that matter in your life and finding yourself along the way. J.R. can define who he is through all of the human connections along the way. Turn up the radio and enjoy the cool familiar jams that this film offers.