The Tender Bar

By Joanna Langfield

There are one and a half reasons to watch this coming of ager. For some, those may be enough.

George Clooney goes for the sweet in this adaptation of J. R. Moehringer’s coming of age memoir. Dad’s just a voice on the radio, so mom Dorothy moves them back into her parents’ Long Island home, a place she may not want to be, but one that, surprisingly envelops the two with warm, scratchy love. For me, this is the part of the film that works best, as Clooney joyously introduces the overcrowded, stretched thin pile of generations, noisy, hungry, stepping in to try and fill gaps that show up along the way. The story meanaders from there, taking us episodically though J.R.’s days in college and early professional life. On his own, things aren’t as much fun to watch.

But let’s get back to the good stuff. Set mostly in the 1970’s and early ‘80’s, a Top Ten catalogue of songs floods an irresistible soundtrack. But we don’t get to hear more than a few “remember this?” seconds of each. Maybe there were licensing, financial issues but, as tantalizing as the music is, the abbreviated length just feels like a tease.

And then there’s Ben Affleck. While co-stars Lily Rabe and Christopher Lloyd have a few nice moments, and Tye Sheridan is fine as J.R., it’s Affleck who out and out shines as Uncle Charlie. Now, I don’t know what the real Uncle Charlie looks like, but somehow, this gruff bartender with a closet full of literature and a wise heart of gold feels as if he might not be the handsomest guy on the planet. His beauty might be internal. Of course, casting Affleck changes the dynamic of all that. But, because he is just so damn good in the part, I fully believed this fit, great looking guy can’t land a decent girl, feels his options are limited and doess the best for everybody except, it seems, himself. We’ve probably all known a Charlie. Affleck makes us very happy to spend some time with him.