This is the third film by George Clooney I’ve seen so far, and also his second collaboration with Ben Affleck after they both produced the Oscar-winning ARGO. Both are actors who have become terrific directors in their own right… they have also played Batman on screen, surely an amusing anecdote for superhero fans.
Growing up in Long Island, young JR is raised by his single mom and only knows his absentee DJ father through his voice in the radio. His uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) becomes his father figure who pass along his wisdom and love for books all while tending his bar, appropriately named Dickens.
The young JR is played with wide-eyed curiosity by Daniel Ranieri, whose relationship with Affleck is pretty warm and affecting. I also like Lily Rabe as his mother whom I’ve never seen before, and Christopher Lloyd is quite memorable in a small role as JR’s grandpa. Having just seen Affleck being a royal pompous @$$ in The Last Duel, it’s nice to see him play a role close to his own self, a Northeaster (though New Yorkers would likely take issue with his Boston accent, ahah). HIs character reminds me a bit of Uncle Frank who has a similar relationship with his niece, though for the most part Affleck is more of a supporting character.
Tye Sheridan portrays JR in his college years and though Sheridan is a good actor, the film drags the most in the second act. Despite my best efforts, I can’t get into the story nor care that much about JR’s journey. The on-and-off romance with his fellow Yale student (Briana Middleton) is more puzzling than sizzling. In fact, I find myself trying to figure out what is so special about this story… So apparently Moehringer won a Pulitzer, but apart from a writer’s journey, it’s unclear what it is exactly to glean from this film.
I think one of my biggest issues with the movie is Affleck’s character… though his performance is good and he’s believable as JR’s father figure, uncle Charlie isn’t fully fleshed out that in the end, I have no idea who he is and what his motivations are. He seems really devoted to his sister and cares for his nephew but it’s not clear why he himself doesn’t have a family. Perhaps I missed something as I was trying to stay awake.
The script is by William Monahan, who won an Oscar for The Departed, but I can hardly remember much of the dialog. Can’t say this is Clooney’s best work either, it’s just too slow and overly nostalgic. I did enjoy the soundtrack as well as the fabulous 70s wardrobe, but the lack of emotional connection with any single person in the film makes for a rather tedious experience. Unlike the fun 70s music, this coming-of-age drama struggles with getting the right groove.
Have you seen THE TENDER BAR? Well, what did YOU think?