As Ben Affleck’s Uncle Charlie would say, some films just have “it.”
There are certain films that get announced, with a release date attached and a trailer in the editing bay, that get your attention quicker than most films. What can be seen as unfair to other filmmakers and cast/crews is simply a matter of art preference. Such as George Clooney, an underrated director, teaming up with Ben Affleck for an indie film about a boy growing into a man at a local bar.
“The Tender Bar” carries all the feel-good grace of an awards contender without the angst and glossy exterior that can turn general movie crowds away. In the film, set in Long Island, Affleck’s Uncle Charlie is one of those charismatic and wise bartenders who takes his nephew J.R. (played by Daniel Rinieri, Tye Sheridan, and Ron Livingston) under his wing when his deadbeat dad (Max Martini) drops the slack. The film chronicles J.R.’s growth from young boy to scholastic man in college, with William Monahan’s script being adapted from J.R. Moehringer’s memoir.
Christopher Lloyd, enjoying a nice 2021 resurgence with this grandfather role along with his scene-stealing turn in “Nobody,” co-stars along with the immeasurably-talented Lily Rabe, who plays J.R. ‘s single mother. In case you haven’t noticed, this is the movie that carries a lived-in feel with the community and town both coming off authentic as ever in the trailer, which premiered this week.
Affleck and Sheridan seem to carry the biggest chunk of the film. It’s their two names on top of the title in the poster and it’s the relationship between Charlie and J.R. that powers the film. The kind of fun yet sometimes harsh uncle who can tell a young kid that he sucks at sports and will never beat him in bowling, but also slide a chilled glass of root beer down the counter at “The Tender Bar.” The story will span through the years as the boy grows into a teenager and man, but this unique and loyal friendship should endure.
We need more movies like this in our lives, family-oriented riffs that don’t boggle our minds with twists or just lay treads over the same science fiction ground moviegoers know by heart. Unlike Paul in “Dune,” J.R. isn’t exactly the one to pick up the small yet comforting Long Island town but if he reads every book Charlie tells him to, he could become a writer–or so the uncle says. I find that infinitely more interesting than a young man having to defeat evil armies and track down hot ladies in the desert spice. I’d rather hang with Charlie at the bar, and see if he gets into any trouble.
More than anything, this looks like Affleck’s ticket back to the Oscars, but this time sitting in the crowd as an acting nominee. Don’t count him out due to stiff competition, because this guy was already passed over last year for his best performance yet in Gavin O’Connor’s “The Way Back.”
Marred by a pre-COVID-19 release, Affleck’s work as former high school basketball prodigy warding off alcoholism as he coaches a young team at his alma mater stuffed with misfits was mesmerizing for two reasons. First, it allowed him to exorcise some real-life demons of his own (he filmed it while in rehab), and it reminded folks the guy can carry a film without throwing a punch or shooting a gun.
Thankfully, George Clooney tapped his “Argo” buddy (they were producing partners who hoisted Best Picture trophies together) to star in his latest film, a much-needed laidback outing from the versatile filmmaker. While I adored his bold yet detached 2020 offering, “The Midnight Sky,” more than most, this story finds him back in stripped-down storytelling mode. No special effects, except for Affleck’s 1970’s wardrobe and hairstyle. Just a wholesome and vital movie about writing your own story instead of allowing the world to do it for you.
I haven’t seen “The Tender Bar” just yet, but I know it will be exactly what the Christmas doctor ordered when it hits theaters on Dec. 22 and goes worldwide on Amazon Prime Video on Jan. 7.
Some films just have “it.” The factor that makes them more appealing to mainstream audiences, and not due to a superhero aesthetic or blockbuster thrills. It’s just a story about a family sticking together like glue so they can make something of themselves.
For me, I hope it nets Affleck what has long eluded him, something that should shut the naysayers-who are only jealous he got to sleep with TWO hot Jennifers and not them-up for good.
All it took was a “Tender Bar.”