It’s easy to forget now, and it feels foolish in hindsight, but there was a time, long ago, when I got excited whenever I saw that a movie directed by George Clooney was coming out.
Back in the early- to mid-2000s, Clooney put out two pretty intriguing movies. In 2002, his directorial debut, ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’,told the fictional tale of TV game show host Chuck Barris and his fantastical claims about being a CIA assassin. It was a flawed but energetic film, buoyed by Sam Rockwell's lead performance.
In 2005, Clooney won critical acclaim with ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, his black and white historical drama about Edward R. Murrow’s clash with anti-communist zealot Senator Joseph McCarthy. The film, which featured a strong performance by David Strathairn, was nominated for six Academy Awards, but won none.
At this point Clooney’s directorial career was bursting with promise, and he seemed to be following in his fellow Hollywood lothario Warren Beatty’s formidable footsteps in being a movie star who also directed well-respected, serious films.
But then, slowly but surely, things started to go downhill, and Clooney was eventually exposed as a cinematic fraud.
First there was 2008’s ‘Leatherheads’, an empty-headed comedy which garnered a 52% critical score and a dismal 38% audience rating on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.
Clooney rebounded a bit in 2011 with ‘The Ides of March’, a political thriller starring Clooney and Ryan Gosling that other critics liked considerably more than I did.
But then the wheels started coming off the wagon, and fast.
In 2014 Clooney churned out World War II drama ‘The Monuments Men’, which went down like a lead balloon; it holds a 30% critical score on Rotten Tomatoes, with audiences giving it 44%.
This was followed by the utterly abysmal ‘Suburbicon’, starring Matt Damon, which cratered with a 28% critical and 25% audience score.
Then last Christmas, Clooney gave us the cinematic equivalent of coal in our stockings with the limp, apocalyptic sci-fi of ‘The Midnight Sky’. And while critics gave it a 50% score at Rotten Tomatoes, audiences felt the same way about it that I did, loathing it to the tune of 26%.
Which brings us to Clooney’s latest directorial offering, ‘The Tender Bar’, which premiered on Amazon on December 7.
‘The Tender Bar’ is a coming-of-age story based on the popular memoir of J.R. Moehringer, a writer and journalist who was raised by a single mother on Long Island.
I’ve not read Moehringer’s memoir, but I have to say, if his life is as dull and insipid as Clooney’s film, then I genuinely feel sorry for the guy.
‘The Tender Bar’ feels like a two-hour episode of the late 80s sitcom ‘The Wonder Years’, minus the charm.
Like the aforementioned sitcom, ‘The Tender Bar’ tells the story of a kid growing up on Long Island, features popular music of the day, and guides viewers with an all-knowing, voice-over narration. It’s also relentlessly sentimental and little more than a nostalgia delivery system.
Clooney still has sway among fellow actors in Hollywood, so the cast of ‘The Tender Bar’ includes notables like Lily Rabe playing J.R.’s mother, and Ben Affleck playing his cool Uncle Charlie.
While Affleck brings his movie star, cool guy A-game, the talented and terrific Rabe is under-utilized and left with next to nothing to do.
Tye Sheridan plays J.R. as a teen and young man, and despite his best efforts, he simply lacks the charisma and magnetism to carry a film like this.
Sheridan, like the rest of the cast, also mangles his Long Island accent. As someone with a plethora of family on Long Island, I couldn’t help but notice when many of the cast slipped into Boston accents instead of Long Island ones, which may have been a function of the film shooting in the Boston area.
The screenplay for ‘The Tender Bar’ is written by Oscar-winner William Monahan, and is a disjointed and derivative piece of work that jumps from one dramatically incoherent and unsatisfying sequence to the next.
For instance, there’s a love story thrown into the film about halfway in that is so absurd as to be ridiculous, but it ends up, out of nowhere, being the major motivational force driving the feckless protagonist on his tedious journey.
But the majority of the blame for ‘The Tender Bar’ falls on the salt and pepper head of George Clooney.
Clooney as director, once again, brings nothing interesting or imaginative to the festivities, and he fails at even the most rudimentary of filmmaking tasks. For instance, his film skips or stumbles over the most easily attainable dramatic beats, and never gathers any storytelling momentum, or clearly sets out and accomplishes any narrative or character arcs.
The end result is a movie that is a staggeringly pedestrian, dramatically inert, cinematic venture.
Considering Clooney’s previously documented precipitous directorial decline, and this film’s current tepid 52% critical score, I think it’s time for Clooney to hang up his director’s hat and go sit in his mansion made of gold and count his billions of dollars.
The entirely forgettable, sub-mediocrity of a movie that is ‘The Tender Bar’ isn’t a spectacular failure or the Hollywood equivalent of the Hindenburg. No, The Tender Bar is just one more monument to Clooney’s directorial malfeasance, and a case of his filmmaking career going out with a whimper instead of a bang. Let’s all raise a glass and toast to Clooney’s latest dismal directorial effort being his last.