Its 1972 and the world is a very naive place. Stepping into this is a tender aged J.R. Maguire (Daniel Ranieri) as he moves into his grandfather’s home in Long Island, New York. His father is a voice on the radio and his mother is eager for him to be something that is not what his father does. Well she wants him to be a lawyer actually. His Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), is a bright, charismatic, self-educated bartender who introduces him to a world of hope. Charlie failed at the structure of life but is smart and articulate enough to get his points across. Charlie also is a pivotal father figure to J.R and this allows him to be able to see life from different aspects. As he grows, he tries to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer. J.R. (Tye Sheridan) works hard to get into a place at Yale and still comes back home to ask his sagely advice from his uncle. The dream he always had to be a writer grows but so does his exclusion from himself. His relationship with his father dissolves into absurdity and he sees his father but cant reconcile the world of him and the world of his.

Recently, I have spent time watching films (no surprise as me being a film reviewer) but as often is the case, this years awards batch have a regular thread running through them. Not uncommon as in previous years we have seen threads about the Holocaust, Slavery and Enviromental crisis. This year the thread is about fathers. Well not actually fathers. More replacement fathers. Beings that are uninitentionally thrust into the figure of masculinity and maleness. Sometimes that leaves the protagonist confused. Other times it is revelatory. This has been a crux of cinema for years. Clooneys direction and Monaghan script mines it richly. Think of GOOD WILL HUNTING from the 90s or MY MAN GODFREY from the 30s. They are all about a positive influence that is fatherly but also revelatory. In THE TENDER BAR, the same is true.  It is a film about men. A counter balance of the toxicity of masculinity today. Not totally what the films of this year express but a disperate band of films rarely fix on one rationale. From films like TITANE and THE POWER OF THE DOG to CRY MACHO and HOUSE OF GUCCI. Maleness and fatherhood are not only pivot points of emotional connection to protagonists but also profound change in their lives. For good and for harm.

It might seem absurd but this seems to be true enough. Often people are caught in the world of poor or substandard parenting and look around for a role model. These can harm us and they can help us. In cinema it is often that binary, sadly. In my own experiuence it is hard to have it that black and white. The adaptation of J. R. Moehringer THE TENDER BAR doent actually suffer from this, as it balances the focuses of a poor parent with the almost wholly positive search for a better model. The original source was less pointed and more shaped by the achievement of J.R. The adaptaion has actually lifted some of the work. Giving his memoir an additional dimension from its already powerful but often uplifting exploration of growing up and fitting in. The most clear power of THE TENDER BAR is Affleck relationship with both actors playing J.R. Add to this the playful performance of Christopher Lloyd and you have a very male film that succeeds in telling a story about men and hopeful masculinity.

THE TENDER BAR is out now


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