The Tender Bar


‘…it’s no easy thing to give a great performance in an average movie, but Affleck somehow manages that feat as JR’s Uncle Charlie…’

It has been a matter of some public shame to this critic that I enjoy a truly awful hit single; Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight, something only to be played loud when listening in to the car radio and when alone. Thanks to director George Clooney and his eclectic soundtrack to The Tender Bar, I discovered that this tuneful song was originally a hit for King Harvest in 1972, and I can now enjoy this original recording without experiencing Toploader-based distress.

That’s not the only boast of The Tender Bar; it’s one of these ‘the wonder of me’ stories that writers create to mythologise themselves, and J. R. Moehringer is the writer responsible. On this evidence, Moehringer is quite a perverse character in that every failure he experiences, as a writer, seems to increase his certainty that writing is the correct profession for him. We see JR as a child, and then as an adult (played by Tye Sheridan), getting turned down by The New York Times, getting rejected by his girlfriend, and generally struggling to find his place in life on Long Island. It’s standard issue stuff for a rites-of-passage scenario, and William Monahan’s verbose script doesn’t do much to bring the premise to life; with an absent father, single mother, aspirations to Yale, a journalism job and learning experiences with a friendly local bartender, what seems remarkable that Moehringer’s life-story so closely resembles Rory’s coming-of-age narrative in tv show The Gilmore Girls.

And yet there’s a reason for reviewing this rather ordinary film, and that reason comes in the form of Ben Affleck. It’s no easy thing to give a great performance in an average movie, but Affleck somehow manages that feat as JR’s Uncle Charlie, a loquacious owner of a bar called The Dickens with a passion for drinking, smoking and books; presumably the enthusiasms of a large number of The Tender Bar’s literary fans. Affleck is a seasoned, respected actor who seems to have been encouraged to play up his dour side, as actors playing Batman often seem to be; Clooney would know this too having also pulled a shift as the gravel-voiced superhero. But Uncle Charlie turns out to be a super-lively, Runyon-esque character, far more influential than JR’s deadbeat dad, who worryingly sees his role as passing information from ‘one swinging dick to another…’ Instead, Uncle Charlie is more concerned with dispensing wry bar-rom homilies, flaunting his considerable reading and taking an active interest in his nephew’s development, and his considerable presence enlivens a cliched scenario.

Otherwise, there’s some great soundtrack music (from Linda Ronstadt to yes, Golden Earring), some faux literary dialogue (even Brideshead Revisited gets a wink) and a general warm and fuzzy feeling for the past; The Tender Bar goes down easily enough. But films about great writers have to establish bona fides, and without any examples of Moehringer’s actual writing offered as evidence, there’s precious little evidence of his talents in Clooney’s hazy movie, which Affleck’s awards-worthy supporting performance really does do all the heavy lifting for.

The Tender Bar is on Amazon Prime UK from Jan 7th 2022. Thanks to Amazon for access.



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  1. Oooo la la, French King Harvest and their 1 hit wonderful song! Coming of age stories often quirky–like Hearts in Atlantis, Almost Famous, A River Runs Thru It, The Fault in our Stars, and late bloomer Stryon in Sophies Choice. The premise of a ‘tender bar’ drew me in, despite Afleck. The Wash Post review dubs it ‘liquor & life served neat,’ and mentions liquors importance–colonial times to present–citing Mount Lushmore, Dean Martin, W.C. Fields, Johnny Appleseed, Dorothy Parker, Marilyn, Humphrey Bogart… The writer is an LA Times reporter–his book IMO was boastful, peppered with interesting trivia, and awkward (like growing up), not up to his journalistic writing. Movie better than book IMO. Feeling thirsty, wish the Slaughtered Lamb pub wasn’t so far away!

    • Oh, you don’t want to be going down the Slaughtered Lamb at this time of year, not unless you’ve already got seven generations in the graveyard…if you make a film about writing, particularly good writing, you need to provide examples, not just all the characters standing around saying that your words are ‘outstanding’. On the basis of this film, this writer has nothing to boast about; who cares what school he went to? That don’t, as Shania Twain said, impress me much. We turn out writers by the tonne, and it’s increasingly hard to make a living at this game, so just being a young writer is hardly something to celebrate. What you write is more important; it would be nice if he’d followed Uncle Charlie’s advice rather than just writing it down and claiming that he was a writer as a result of copying down the instructions he got. Sigh. It makes JR the Toploader of the story, and Uncle Charlie the King Harvest…

    • The Way Back was fine, but very much the recovering boozer performance we’ve seen before. I’m fed up with The last duel now being the butt of jokes about unpopularity; it should be a matter of public shame that this film couldn’t find an audience…

  2. I couldn’t sworn they already made a film from The Tender Bar memoir….but the google machine gave me nothing, so I’m obviously wrong.

    More importantly….does his Rory Gilmore coming-of-age comparison stop at the end of the original show or does it include the 4 more recent Netflix movies? That’s makes all the difference, as we’re either talking about a major overachiever if no and a major underachiever if yes……

      • Yup, I think it’s been held back in the UK to give the population time to prepare for Ben Affleck’s performance, but would have been on Prime in the US in Dec…

    • Compared to who? Paris? Let’s not forget, Rory stole a boat, and that’s not acceptable behaviour.

      I’m drawing a line firmly at the end of the run of the original show, and not including the A Year in the Life. I’ve never understood why Lorelai didn’t save any money for Rory’s expensive education, and then had to go to her mother for help. But given the circumstances, Rory did well do get out of Chilton with what she needed to get into Yale, despite having a string of awful boyfriends; in decreasing order of quality, Dean, Jess, Logan. This film is very odd in that it IS The Gilmore Girls but with a male protagonist, with Uncle Charlie and Luke being essentially the same person, and I’d be seriously worried if I sat down to write my story about my life as a writer and The Gilmore Girls was what came out…

    • It’s had fairly mixed reviews, but Affleck is the draw; he really gives the film some heart…obviously, don’t listen to Toploader!

  3. I want to see this for the Affleck performance and for the soundtrack. Embrace your enjoyment of Toploader’s version, it’s a joyful little tune to sing along to in the car so long as you haven’t got a passenger.

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