Ben Affleck, left, and Tye Sheridan in “The Tender Bar” 2021. Amazon

In Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir, directed with a loving hand by George Clooney, it seems clear that Ben Affleck may no longer have to hyphenate his name with Matt Damon.

His role as the owner and tender of a Staten Island bar called “Dickens” may well be Ben’s first successful voyage away from that shadow.

Ben is here as “Uncle Charlie” who has inherited the job of role model for his young nephew J.R, (Daniel Ranieri of a sweet, black-haired and dark-eyed charmer.)

Because the boy’s father, (Max Martini of TV’s The “Unit”) a well-known disc jockey on a New Jersey small radio station, is a permanent absent father, alcoholic and abusive husband to Dorothy (Lily Rabe, “American Horror Story”).

After years of suffering, Dorothy, job jumping from jobs we never get to see, and at the bottom of a dumpster of choices, finally takes JR, a couple of bags, and moves in with her irascible, elderly father (Christopher Lloyd, still etching the wonderful comic crank from “Taxi” and “Back To the Future.”)

The film then settles in to be a coming-of-age drama with splotches of street comedy relief.


Clooney, with assistance from script writer William Monahan, gives a chunk of the 104 minutes of the film to JR who moves from the kitchen table to his own stool in Charlie’s bar, being tutored in the art of being a “smart” guy, from Charlie, a well-read, self-taught survivor.

Young JR who has inherited his mother’s good sense and patience, quietly takes all the tutoring with good humor, and magically develops a gift for writing.

Then before our eyes, JR vanishes and shows up in the shape of Tye Sheridan (of “X-Men: First Class” and “Ready Player One”), a blondish, shy, nice guy with none of the charm he had as a child, but stoked with Charlie’s thousand-book mine of literature, and fueled by Dorothy’s persistence, wins a spot at Yale.

From Yale to a failed apprentice day job with the New York Times, JR moves slowly back and forth from Yale to the bar in Manhasset, New York.

His young life crawls slowly through Yale’s ivy halls, dotted with a romance with an upper class beauty (Briana Middleton), and friend (Rhenzy Feliz, “Marvel’s Runaways”) educated citizens almost never seen in Charlie’s bar.

“Tender Bar” is, on one level, a sweet, tender story of a future Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s struggle to succeed.

I’ve not seen any of Tye Sheridan’s previous work, but whatever he had in those roles that made him “One of the 10 important young actors to watch,” there is no excitement in his Manhasset-bred J.R.

“The Tender Bar” ultimately comes as a Christmas gift packaged with love, a feel good treat that will win over older audiences and hand Affleck a much-needed Oscar nod. Good for him.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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