‘The Tender Bar’ Review

A neoliberal version of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ with expected results

JR (Tye Sheridan/Daniel Ranieri) wants to be a writer. He wants to write because he’s, y’know—special. You won’t see him writing much or discover a thing about his passions, but remember: He’s special. The people who make up JR’s crowded home love and encourage him, Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) in particular, who becomes a guiding light in opposition to JR’s deadbeat father (Max Martini). Still, our hero wonders if he has what it takes to be a writer, plus there’s some girl drama. There you go—that’s The Tender Bar from director George Clooney (yes, that George Clooney), a film with a decidedly un-clever title which portrays itself as a sprinkler spouting truth when it’s really as murky as polluted lake water.

You’ll probably wonder why you’re watching JR at all, especially as the writer-riddled-with-self-doubt story has been told ten gazillion times in film. Most kids are told they’re special by their families, what’s unique about this one? You won’t ever find out, save for something or other about daddy issues, but you will get a ‘70s/’80s nostalgia-fueled tale with the weakest kinds of evocation, from then-ubiquitous pop tunes and a sepia tone filter, as if that’s supposed to mean anything. C’mon, Clooney.

Amazon Prime’s new film is a tonal trainwreck, its focus as unsteady as the camcorder-like cinematography. Find here an inexplicable abundance of snap-zooms, as if Clooney had a fever dream and thought he might be making an action flick. But then, Clooney’s directorial history is littered with one stumble after another (remember The Midnight Sky? Suburbicon? Sheesh). At least those stumbles are a source of consistency, but maybe we can all collectively agree that, moving forward, the majority of memoirs can stay within pages rather than digital frames?

The Tender Bar, most curiously, promotes the notion that real America is the folks at the bars who passively watch the world and its people go by. They are content with their lot and recognize brilliance, however; they give grandfatherly advice to the special smarties like JR. Uh, OK. Such weird working class romanticism hovers over this story, all while encouraging the not-so-special normies to be cool with what they have. Clooney, one the highest paid Hollywood actors, maybe isn’t one to tell us about working class truths, though.


+The acting works

-Pro-meritocracy garbage; a conceptual mess

The Tender Bar

Directed by Clooney

With Affleck, Sheridan and Lily Rabe

Amazon Prime, R, 104 min.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.