‘The Tender Bar’ Explained – J.R. Moehringer’s Hunt For Closure


The Tender Bar, directed by George Clooney, is an accumulation of instances that feel relatable on several occasions. It is based on a memoir written by J.R. Moehringer and has been adapted for the screen by William Monahan. Clooney might not be very sure about which alleys he wants to explore while being on the way, but he sure knows his final destination. It might be a complaint of many that The Tender Bar sometimes deals with life-altering situations in a manner as if there was no predicament at all. As a viewer, you feel disappointed by the lack of passion, but then I believe that is how life is. You rehearse in your mind how you would react in a particular situation, but when it finally arrives, you realize that it was nothing like what you had imagined. Clooney might not have been able to create a conflict that drives the narrative, but he has successfully created short excerpts that stay with you for long. 

Synopsis – Vivid Characters of the Bar

Uncle Charlie, played by Ben Affleck, is a role that is right up his alley. We have met Uncle Charlie before. He is that family member who, even after his controversial life choices, is looked up to by all the children of the family. You want to replicate his style, drive the same car that he does and have the same flamboyant life that he has. But at that stage, we have no clue about what makes a person, Uncle Charlie. Behind all that extravagance is a core value that defines him more than his rugged leather jacket.

You see the admiration in the gleaming eyes of young JR, played by Daniel Ranieri, when he looks at his uncle. Even at a tender age, JR completely understands her mother, though he does not associate with her always. For his mother, played by Lily Rabe, going back to her father’s home meant that she had failed in her life. But JR liked being around people. Grandpa’s home was like this common hall in a hostel, where everybody gathers, and you get to witness a lot of different characters in their element.

That one conflict that plays a crucial role in JR’s life is his mother and him being abandoned by his father. For JR, his father was no more than a faceless voice on the radio. He desperately wanted to lift the veil and meet the person who was responsible for bringing him into this world. A young JR meets him once and tries to find a hero to look upto. He does not get that. But at that point in time, in his childhood innocence, JR does not completely disregard his potential. He still believes that one day he would understand the motivations of his father and why he abandoned his mother. But Johnny Michaels, A.K.A, The Voice, didn’t have anything to offer. The enigma that was created was just an amalgamation of expectations and desires of a child, who was not ready to accept that his father was just a botched-up human being, running away from the responsibilities, prioritizing his selfish needs, and not worthy of any association. 

‘The Tender Bar’ Explained – A Hunt For Closure.

Life is an accumulation of a great many things, but most of all, it is about gaining your own perspective. Inspirations and influences can never be avoided completely. In a way, they are necessary but letting someone paddle your canoe is a mistake that many of us make.

Uncle Charlie is that one person in JR’s life who gives him blunt life lessons that get a tad bit brutal at times. He tells JR to take the subject of philosophy at Yale as he would always get the benefit of the fact that in life and philosophy, there is nothing right or wrong. He tells him to read George Orwell, who wrote about the “lower upper-middle class.” Uncle Charlie was a self-taught man and held a very unique and intriguing viewpoint about life. He is that character with whom you would want to have a long conversation in a bar over a couple of single malts. 

When JR does not get the position of a reporter in The New York Times, then Uncle Charlie tells him in his idiosyncratic flair that success might give you happiness, but failure gives you character. When you succeed, you become a part of the system. Still, failure gives you an opportunity to take a step back and visualize the whole situation from a third man’s perspective and understand the nitty-gritties of it.

JR waited a long time for that impending encounter with his father. There was still some hope that he would find something beneath that “Voice.” And even if he doesn’t, then he would get a character for his fiction that he was wanting to write for a long time. On getting acquainted with the prosaic realities of his father’s life, a disappointment surges inside JR, and he finally implodes. It leaves us with a question, “what will you do without that one bad guy in your life.”

“Do well in school” is a phrase that we have heard a zillion times, because sometimes that’s all that there is to life, as JR puts it. You do well in school, you get a degree, and then you get a job through that degree. You doing well in school is a certification of the fact that you will do well in life. And I believe that is where we remove the possibility of innovation. Life becomes stagnant. We get more doctors and engineers and create a society that despises change, failures, and artists. We try to develop a formula for success because we are scared of people judging us. We are scared of our credibility going under scrutiny every time we do something. But an artist, a writer, a performer, goes through that scrutiny every time he creates something. You have something to prove to yourself as you do not get a diploma that declares you to be an artist. As Uncle Charlie puts it perfectly, You need to have ‘It”, to become a writer.

Uncle Charlie and JR's mother
Credits: Amazon Studios

Eventually, in your journey, you realize that there are no absolutes in life. And once you get this realization, nobody can stop you from writing your own memoir. 

As aptly stated by J.R Moehringer, “God invented writers because he too loves a good story.” Often in our search for that perfect story, we end up questioning the words. But a story is much more than its words. It’s that feeling that originates from those imperfect words put together. You need to find that one emotion, that one feeling that makes you pause and think for a moment. If that happens, then “The Tender Bar” would be definitely worth a watch.

The Tender Bar is a 2021 Coming of Age Drama film directed by George Clooney. It is streaming on Prime Video.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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