Writer and journalist J. R. Moehringer is such a master of the memoire that he has been asked co or ghost-write those of people such as Andre Agassi, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex.
His own memoire, The Tender Bar, was published in 2005, and has now been made into a feature film directed by George Clooney, with a screenplay by William Monahan (Edge of Darkness; Body of Lies).
Young Jr and his struggling mother live with her parents on Long Island. Jr’s father is a deadbeat radio announcer who deserted the family and now only makes the odd, drunken, phone call. Jr looks to his Uncle Charlie for a father-figure. Charlies runs a bar called The Dickens, with piles of old volumes by the author stacked in with the bar bottles. It is in this quirky drinking hole that Jr learns about life, love, and literature, from Charlie and his bar-fly mates. Jr’s mother has one dream, and that is for Jr to go to Yale and study law. He eventually does get to Yale, but decides to be a writer instead, whilst pursuing an on-again, off-again relationship with the enigmatic Sidney.
The Tender Bar is a gentle, warm, and quietly wise story. At its heart is the relationship between Jr and Charlie. Ben Affleck manages to under-play the role just right, leaving room for Tye Sheridan and the delightful Daniel Ranieri to give us a loveable Jr at different stages of his life. Clooney was clearly able to direct Affleck to turn in a grounded performance, rather than a star-turn. Lily Rabe is wonderful as Jr’s mother, despite the narrative seeming to underplay her influence on her son. Two great character roles are delivered by Christopher Lloyd as Grandpa and Matthew Delamater as Joey D, Jr’s useless father.
Monahan and Clooney haveproduced an absolute delight with this gentle feature. It is (as its title suggests) tender, yet it is surprisingly unsentimental. Prolific cinematographer Martin Ruhe allows the story to unfold seamlessly, working in concert with Bryan Felty’s art direction, and Melissa M, Levander’s fantastic set decoration.
Paced just right, with equal amounts of humour, charm, and pathos, this is a work which stays with you. The Tender Bar is the kind of film which gets under your skin.
The Tender Bar is available from 7th January on Amazon Prime