The Tender Bar

Release: Friday, December 17, 2021 (limited)

👀 Amazon Prime

Written by: William Monahan

Directed by: George Clooney

Starring: Ben Affleck; Tye Sheridan; Daniel Ranieri; Lily Rabe; Max Martini; Christopher Lloyd; Briana Middleton

Distributor: Amazon Studios

 

 

**/*****

Movies about aspiring writers too often come across mawkish and cheesy. It’s almost a condition, something that just comes with the territory and which the likable but cliché The Tender Bar doesn’t do enough to defend against.

Orange County set on the East Coast, more specifically Long Island, The Tender Bar is a coming-of-age drama based on the memoir written by Pulitzer-prize winning novelist and journalist J.R. Moehringer. Filtered through thick accents and an unabashedly sentimental lens, it charts his path from humble upbringings to Yale University and a bit beyond, exploring the influence that his family had on shaping his dream. Yet for all its good intentions and stretches of excellent acting, it’s a strange feeling to sit through something as banal as what we get here, considering the talent both in front of and behind the camera and the Oscar-winning pedigree of screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed).

While it’s certainly not the latter’s best effort — the dialogue is often corny, most of it unfortunately spouted by Ron Livingston in his Wonder Years-like voice-over — this is more about George Clooney phoning it in as director, failing to girder Moehringer’s memoir with a compelling cinematic treatment. If this were your introduction to the subject (as it was for me) you might come away shrugging the whole thing off as inconsequential. Moehringer is an accomplished writer but the hackneyed presentation doesn’t make him seem very interesting.

About the only distinction The Tender Bar has is a terrific performance from Ben Affleck, who becomes the role model J.R.’s biological father never was interested in playing, particularly in his childhood. He plays Uncle Charlie, a stabilizing force in the chaotic house into which young J.R. (introducing Daniel Ranieri) and his mother (Lily Rabe) are flung at the movie’s open. He’s also the bartender at The Dickens, a little hole-in-the-wall where dozens of books line the shelves alongside the booze. It’s here where J.R. spends much of his time, sipping Coca-Cola and inhaling life advice from his sleeper-genius uncle, whose own murky career goals belie the clarity of his wisdom.

The movie’s other asset is Max Martini who provides the antithesis to Affleck’s charm and warmth. As J.R.’s father, a radio deejay only referred to as “The Voice,” he doesn’t appear for long but enough to leave a bruise. The inevitable confrontation between him and his upward-trending son (now Tye Sheridan — amiable if unremarkable), although patently predictable given Clooney’s strict adherence to formula, lends tension to a story where most obstacles are cleared without effort. And if not effortlessly cleared, needlessly repeated — Briana Middleton’s appearance as a love interest does nothing to advance the story, only to remind of the elitism that swirls at the Ivy League level.

The condescension J.R. experiences here is what we feel throughout much of the story. The Tender Bar is pleasant enough but also basic. Like its subject and his needing to know what his initials stand for, it’s constantly searching for an identity of its own.

You’re the greatest inspiration in my life, bar none

Moral of the Story: Though sometimes too schmaltzy, The Tender Bar has occasional moments of affecting character work, especially between Affleck and the young Ranieri. But he gets along famously with both actors, and it’s that dynamic I’d recommend more than anything else here. Without trying to sound snobby, it’s just not a particularly deep movie. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “I want to be a writer, but I suck.”

“Well, when you suck at writing, that’s when you become a journalist.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Fractured

Release: Friday, October 11, 2019 (Netflix)

→Netflix

Written by: Alan B. McElroy

Directed by: Brad Anderson

There’s something inherently off-putting about hospitals and treatment centers. Anyone who has spent some time in them (not to mention contend with their bureaucratic ways) can attest to just how much stress they can bring out in a person. They might even be worse than airports in that regard.

These places inspire angst, distrust and even outright fear, elements apropos of a psychological thriller. To that end, maybe it’s not surprising a great many of these “it’s all in your head” movies set up shop in mental institutions and psychiatric wards. Nine years ago Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island brought us to the Alcatrazian equivalent of an asylum for the criminally insane. Just last year Steven Soderbergh provided a reality check as Claire Foy steadily unraveled in a mental care facility holding her against her will (check out my review of Unsane here). In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched, one of cinema’s all-time great villains, gave us one of the most legitimate reasons to fear the institution in a way that is, nearly 45 years later, still waiting to be challenged.

Brad Anderson’s psychological thriller Fractured can’t help but encourage a little déjà vu in terms of the way it messes with your head. It’s perception-skewing plot mechanics and unreliable protagonist aren’t things you haven’t seen in better/more expensive movies. Shutter Island is definitely invoked, but the plot this movie steals the most from is undoubtedly the 1938 Hitchcock classic The Lady Vanishes. However there are some nuances to this environment that help Fractured gain its own modest standing. For one, the super-sketchy way organ donations seem to be handled here at America’s most uncooperative hospital — a familiar place that increasingly feels like a madhouse based on the way everyone, including our everyman “hero,” seems to act. Plus it’s just cool to see the amiable English actor Sam Worthington in a lead role.

Fractured is born in an air of anxiety that makes you feel unnerved from the very beginning. The filmmakers manage to further intoxicate it with strange characters and mounting aggression. The Monroes are driving back home after a lousy Thanksgiving gathering. Stress levels are through the roof of their blue Ford Explorer. However many hours they’ve been on the road you can bet Ray (Worthington) and his wife Joanne (Lily Rabe) have been fighting for the duration. Ray, a former NASCAR driver and recovering alcoholic, is not the man his wife married — a shell of his former self. Their six-year-old daughter Peri (Lucy Capri) minds her own business in the backseat. Soon though she has to pee. And the batteries in her music player are dead. Ray pulls over at a suspect gas station in the middle of nowhere to kill two birds with one stone.

A pivotal event occurs there, an unfortunate accident bad enough for Peri to need immediate medical attention. Ray recalls passing a hospital not too far back and puts his experiences as a professional driver to good use. When they arrive at Kirkbride Hospital his good intentions are rebuffed by an unfriendly staff and an interminable sit in the waiting room. Ray is coming in a little hot with his need-to-know interrogations, yet something’s clearly off about this place. Unusual questions are being asked. Suspicious looking people are coming and going at the back door. A Dr. Berthram (played by prolific character actor Stephen Tobolowsky) insists on taking Peri to the Lower Level to be evaluated for head trauma even though it’s just a broken arm — you know, just to be safe. The family gets separated, as only one visitor is allowed at a time and Joanne goes with her.

When Ray awakens from a nap in the waiting room the drama goes to work in earnest. No one in the hospital has a recollection of Joanne or Peri, only that Ray checked himself in for a head injury. Shift rotations and front desk assistants unapologetically in dereliction of duty only compound the headache. As his behavior intensifies — there’s a really entertaining confrontation in that ominous elevator — Alan B. McElroy’s screenplay tosses into the mix local cops, overzealous security guards and psychologists, building a case against Ray that you, the surrogate couch detective, must either dismiss as a sophisticated conspiracy or embrace as the ugly truth.

Technically speaking this isn’t a flashy movie; the drab interiors and equally blue exteriors are exceptionally unexceptional. I’d argue that the elementary design to some degree works in the movie’s favor. The un-showy style keeps the focus on what matters most, and that’s the human element, the details regarding what’s really fracturing this man who would do anything for his family. Some creative editing allows the mystery to expand and deepen, even as the feeling of “Been here, done that” tugs at the back of your mind. This otherwise generic prescription for low-key horror is given its biggest shot of adrenaline thanks to Worthington’s performance, a convincing evocation of a man clearly dealing with more stress than he can bear.

He’s going down.

Recommendation: Fractured is a by-the-numbers thriller that gets by with a strong performance from Sam Worthington. Despite the number of weird developments that encourage us to draw our own conclusions throughout, ultimately it’s that final frame that will leave viewers talking. The sum totality of the experience isn’t what I would call a Netflix “original” (that feels like a misnomer) but there’s enough going on here to keep you involved from the comforts of your favorite recliner. Kick your feet up and bring your expectations down. 

Rated: TV-MA

Running Time: 99 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.geektyrant.com