Arts, Movies, Review

‘The Tender Bar’ Shares Heartwarming Coming-of-Age Tale

★☆

The Tender Bar is a poignant but uplifting coming-of-age film that feels like an impeccable blend of J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye and the film Good Will Hunting, as it creates the perfect balance of tragic and sweet.

Directed by George Clooney, The Tender Bar, which was released on Amazon Prime on Jan. 7, is an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize–winning writer J. R. Moehringer’s memoir of the same name. 

The film opens in the year 1973, depicting young J.R. (Daniel Ranieri) and his mother Dorothy (Lily Rabe) relocating to her childhood home in Manhasset, N.Y. She has just been abandoned by her husband (Max Martini), an abusive and absent father and an unsuccessful radio jockey. 

The mother and son walk into a dysfunctional family setting, but J.R. is still grateful to call it home. The carefully curated soundtrack is a subtle bonus, with its vintage flare to fit the 1970s era—offering a mix of Bobby Darin, Jim Croce, Paul Simon, The Isley Brothers, and more. 

Viewers can’t help but love the film’s compelling cast of compelling characters. J.R.’s grandfather (Christopher Lloyd) seems curmudgeonly at times, but he is a benevolent character that acts as a dependable figure for his family. Dorothy, who didn’t go to college, dreams of her son attending an Ivy League school and becoming a lawyer, and she does everything she can to give him the opportunity to do so. 



The understated hero—and J.R.’s north star—is his Uncle Charlie, played by Ben Affleck in arguably the best role of his career thus far. Charlie owns a bar called The Dickens, named after Charles Dickens. From behind the bar, Charlie serves words of wisdom to his young nephew on the wonders of literature, philosophy, and what it means to be a good man. 

Affleck splendidly portrays this perceptive, well-read, self-taught genius. Charlie’s charismatic demeanor and words of sage advice are brilliant. Providing J.R. an ideal blend of realistic guidance and encouragement, Affleck makes viewers wish that they had their own Uncle Charlie.

Uncle Charlie encourages J.R. to pursue his dream to have a career in writing. It is through Charlie’s encouragement and J.R.’s tremendous work ethic that he gets accepted to Yale. 

In his college years, the more mature J.R. (Tye Sheridan) faces the same obstacles that many young adults do, most notably young unrequited love. The Tender Bar successfully creates a relatable character, as J.R. stumbles through his youth on his quest to find his true path in life.

Though the coming-of-age story certainly isn’t new to the cinema, this one is told with an authentic sincerity that is fully absorbing, likely because it is a true story. The characters are well developed with multi-layered personalities, as they portray common experiences that a wide audience can connect with. 

As Dickens himself once wrote, “There is a wisdom of the head, and … a wisdom of the heart.” It is delightful watching J.R. pursue both of these wisdoms as he grows up with the help of his Uncle Charlie and the many interesting characters surrounding him. 

Featured Image Courtesy of Amazon Studios

January 30, 2022
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