The Tender Bar is based on a memoir by J.E. Moehringer, adapted by the screenwriter of The Departed and Kingdom of Heaven, William Monaghan. It’s a rose-colored remembrance of his youth and transition to adulthood, with an absentee father (whose voice he hears on the radio), a crusty but soft-hearted grandfather (Christopher Lloyd), and a loving, ever-present mother (Lily Rabe). The father-figure in his life is his amiable Uncle Charlie, a bartender (Ben Affleck) who dispenses sound, working-class wisdom on a regular basis.

The wide-eyed boy named JR is played by newcomer Daniel Ranieri, a “find” who effortlessly commands the screen without a hint of coyness. He learns the meaning of unconditional love from his mom and grudgingly comes to accept the fact that his father is never going to be there for him. Most of his life experiences are imparted to him by the guys who hang out at his uncle’s Long Island bar.

As the boy becomes a teenager his role is assumed by Tye Sheridan, who lends his own brand of credibility to the character of JR. He earns a scholarship to Yale, where he falls for a worldly coed (Briana Middleton) who is destined to break his heart—more than once.

The Tender Bar is an idealized coming-of-age story that isn’t blazingly original but consistently entertaining. Monahan wrote the screen adaptation of his own book and his authorial voice rings loud and clear. (In a more literal sense, the narration is read by Ron Livingston.)

The word I’m trying to avoid using is “nice” but there’s no getting around it. That, I suspect, is the reason the book appealed to director George Clooney and why he has shepherded it to film so well. Ben Affleck is a perfect Uncle Charlie and Lily Rabe is genuinely lovable as JR’s mom. And if you don’t think there’s room in this world for a nice movie every now and then, I wouldn’t want to have so much as a drink with you. The Tender Bar is now playing in limited theatrical release and will debut January 7 on Amazon Prime.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024