When you reach George Clooney’s seniority levels in show business, you seemingly have the chance to unleash as much mediocre, forgettable directorial effort as you want.
His latest entry in his series of films destined to fade from collective consciousness (we remember Suburb?) is The tender bar. This tasteless dud is based on the memoirs of the same name by JR Moehringer. True to the book, it chronicles the life of JR (Ranieri and Sheridan, younger and older respectively) as he navigates the pains and joys of his coming of age on his native Long Island. Fatherless and having grown up in a cash-strapped household with his mother, Dorothy (Rabe), his true tastes of life and comfort come from time spent at the titular bar owned by his uncle Charlie (Affleck). This is where he continually returns for fellowship as he grows up and tries to find his true calling. Or something.
The screenplay written by William Monahan just never really takes off and manifests its emotional coming-of-age intention into something quite mundane. The real dramatic ambitions of the thing are decidedly modest; the film is concerned with the everyday moments and tribulations of life, although it is so remarkably modest that you wonder what it is for. Maybe these events make more sense on the page, but being filtered through Clooney’s milquetoast director sensibilities, they’re utterly lifeless and awkward. Even the bar that JR returns to is supposed to carry so much emotional weight because the story never makes much of a special impression, just a recurring place that we return to every now and then when the movie is ready to inject some life into it. the frame with Affleck. It is true that he does a great, serious performance, and it’s nice to see him come back to something so low-key, even though he and his team of bar friends somehow look like a rejection. Many Newark Saints to throw. Coupled with JR’s hilarious and mundane voiceover that accompanies the runtime, it feels like it’s made for TV at times.
There are little pleasures to be had in some of these scenes, as well as with some of the more vivid formal and editing choices. The occasional sudden zoom or quick comedic cut creates brief moments of respite, and it’s hard to really hate a movie aiming for such a benevolent emotional resonance. But whatever small wisdoms or truths are here, they are wasted in a great nothing of a story trying to make sense of them.