The Tender Bar (2021): A Sweet, Sentimental, Long Island-ISH Coming of Age Story

“The Tender Bar” is directed by George Clooney (The Monuments Men, The Midnight Sky) and stars Ben Affleck (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Accountant), Tye Sheridan (Voyagers, Ready Player One), Lily Rabe (Miss Stevens, No Reservations), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, Nobody), and Daniel Ranieri. This film is based on a memoir of the same name and is set in 1970s Long Island and follows JR as he grows up, does some usual coming of age things during said process, while also trying to seek out a father figure after his dad disappeared.

If you know who I am and where I live, you’d know this film one of the most personal I’ve seen to date. “The Tender Bar” was not my most anticipated film at the start of the year, mainly because I barely knew it existed. I liked George Clooney’s recent outing with Netflix’s “The Midnight Sky.” I thought it was visually stunning and was able to balance two adventures and perspectives that seemed to differ in scale. So knowing Clooney had at least one success as a director definitely helps. Although I want to introduce a little potential bias into this review. One of my favorite memories as a moviegoer is going to see “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” for the first time. Why? I live 20 to 40 minutes from both malls where the movie was shot, and I saw the film at a theater across the street from one of those malls.

For “The Tender Bar,” I did something similar. I happened to see this film at The Cabot in Beverly, Massachusetts, where a majority of the film was shot. There are a few locations that people of that city would instantly recognize. But if I told you that was the icing on the cake, I’d be lying.

I live a few towns away from Beverly, Wakefield to be specific. It’s… Got good pizza delivery places. A few good places to get breakfast. And we have… What am I kidding? WHAT DO WE HAVE?! A lake?! It’s a polluted pool that gives you a nice view of the Reading Jordan’s Furniture every now and again! What else do we have? But playing into this bias marathon, this film has a scene that was shot at the Wakefield Bowladrome, which has candlepin bowling, or as New Englanders, or anyone else with common sense calls it, bowling. I was at this location while they were shooting. They did not let anyone inside, for good reason, but I had the chance to witness filmmaking history as it happened in my own town.

Despite this connection that makes me giddy, I will note that this is a logical flaw in the film because as I mentioned, candlepin bowling is a New England sport, along with Canada as well. There are other areas where it is found, but New England and Canada are the two mainstays. Candlepin bowling has never had a history on Long Island. Logically, it would have been better to find a place that does tenpin bowling, or regular bowling as most call it, or INFERIOR bowling as I call it. Apparently the crew shot around various communities in Massachusetts, and the state does have its fair share of tenpin alleys. A lot of them have glow lighting at certain times, but there’s also some that don’t. Although the automatic scoring systems could feel out of place. I’ll give some credit though. I’ve been in that alley numerous times, and it has rarely changed in terms of the decor and condition. It kind of feels like a time capsule, so if they were going for an old timey vibe, they’ve kinda nailed it. A lot of the candlepin alleys that exist in New England look as if they’ve barely changed in decades.

The film itself, is nostalgic in a sense that it makes you feel like you are instantly transported to a 1970s where one could see said time as “glory days,” and has a fun soundtrack to evoke such a feeling. Songs from artists including Paul Simon and the Isley Brothers liven up the movie from one scene to another.

Now Ben Affleck (left) is likely going to be the most recognizable star in this film. He plays his part well, but I honestly think he’s had better performances. Just look at his 2020 outing with Gavin O’Connor, “The Way Back.” While his performance here is charming as Uncle Charlie, I don’t think the biggest standout in the film, despite being likable. Although I will note one thing… Before this film came out, I thought Ben Affleck would be the character everything in this film centered around. Well, I never knew about the book… In fact, if you look at the casting list for this film on IMDb or Wikipedia or wherever you find it, Ben Affleck has top billing. Because… Of course he does. He’s not the main character.

But the story itself centers around Tye Sheridan’s (right) character of JR. JR makes quite a progression throughout his life. He’s a promising young man who goes to Yale, meets a woman, makes some choices that decide the course of where he ends up. I’ve seen Tye Sheridan on screen before in “Ready Player One.” I liked him in “Ready Player One.” I love him in “The Tender Bar.” As for his younger interpretation, that is played by Daniel Ranieri, who I discovered last year courtesy of the Internet. He was in a video referencing people going outside in the pandemic and he goes on and on, cursing them out. It is ridiculously funny. Despite some of the filthy things he says in that video, I think he was properly cast as a sweet young boy who wanted nothing more than a father. I believe the transition from him to Sheridan, and both play their parts well.

Upon leaving this film, I felt happier walking out of this than I did watching most of the films I’ve watched in recent memory. If I had a word to describe “The Tender Bar” it would be “sweet.” Now, this is a drama, meaning that not everything goes everyone’s way, but this movie honestly has one of my favorite endings of any film I’ve seen that came out in 2021. It’s the kind of ending that sort of reminds me of one of the supposedly essential aspects of the parent-child relationship. The acceptance and realization that someone is an adult while also recognizing a tradition that maybe they have both honored since childhood. When someone prominent in my family died, I had a particular object passed down to me, which I still have in my room today. The scene in the movie that I’m referring to, as a reminder of this real life occurrence, differs significantly, but it kind of reminded me of that.

If I had any other comments, it would be that my one other flaw would have to be Christopher Lloyd’s character. I’m not saying Lloyd does not do a good job in the movie. He’s a great actor, and he proves that in this movie, but this harkens back to the old saying that first impressions matter. One of the first scenes of the film where we see Lloyd in action, or lack thereof, is him sitting in a chair farting. This gag goes on for about a minute. What is this a kids movie? This freaking thing’s rated R! We’re resorting to cheap PG comedy gags now?

In the end, I liked “The Tender Bar.” Despite coming out during the holiday season, having high profile names, and not belonging in any extended cinematic universes, I don’t think “The Tender Bar” is going to win any awards. But similar to how “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” recently harkened back to the 1960s with success, “The Tender Bar” is a delightful throwback to the 1970s in Long Island, even if the entire movie was shot in the state of Massachusetts. I feel like I’m not judging this film fairly, because I think the average viewer of this movie who ends up seeing the film in say Los Angeles will barely notice a difference in a couple key aspects. Either way, the film is worth a watch if you want something sweet with some drama mixed in. I’m going to give “The Tender Bar” a 7/10.

“The Tender Bar” is now playing in select theaters and is available on Prime Video for all subscribers.

Thanks for reading this review! This week is a big one for Scene Before, because on Tuesday, January 11th and Wednesday, January 12th, it is time to recap my BEST and WORST movies of the year. On January 11th I’ll be talking about the Top 10 BEST movies of 2021 and on January 12th I’ll be talking about the Top 10 WORST Movies of 2021. I cannot wait, I always enjoy doing these lists, and I equally hope you all enjoy reading them! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Tender Bar?” What did you think about it? Or, have you ever gone candlepin bowling? And if so, WHY IS IT THE ONLY BOWLING?! Leave your comments down below, hopefully like all that dead wood you knocked down that’s still on the plate!

…Candlepin bowling joke. I do not apologize.

Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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