It’s the Golden Rule when adapting a memoir to the screen: make sure your subject is interesting. This ultimately leads to the downfall of director George Clooney‘s “The Tender Bar,” based on author J.R. Moehringer’s 2006 autobiographical bestseller. The big problem is that the lead character is uninteresting, the family is boring, and there isn’t a soul to root for. When the character with the most charisma is a flatulent grandpa (Christopher Lloyd), it should be a clear sign that your project is in big, big trouble.
The film tells the story of J.R. (Tye Sheridan) and his now-single mother (Lily Rabe), who is struggling to give her son the opportunities that she never had. The pair move back into mom’s childhood home with her parents and charismatic brother Charlie (Ben Affleck). It doesn’t take long for J.R. to develop a connection with his streetwise Uncle, who tends bar at the neighborhood watering hole called the Dickens. The boy finds the father figure he never had in his Uncle, and the pair share conversations about life, love, and literature that continue until adulthood.
While this isn’t a boring story to those who actually lived this life, it certainly is for those of us watching it. This is a standard issue coming-of-age tale, but there’s very little to care about. I didn’t like J.R., I didn’t care for his mother, his deadbeat father feels like a caricature, and Uncle Charlie is a been there, done that, blue collar philosopher. There’s a listless love story where J.R. is involved with a woman (Briana Middleton) who is above his station, but including this in the film feels forced and rushed. I felt zero connection to any of these people. The use of irritating and lazy voiceover narration to tell the story makes things even worse.
The performances from the cast are fine, and Affleck nails the working class Long Island accent. But there’s nothing that can redeem this forgettable, lifeless bore.