George Clooney’s latest film, the adaptation of JR Moehringer’s The Tender Bar, opens in select theatres the week before Christmas and will be available to stream on Amazon in early January. It’s George Clooney, it’s a holiday release, it’s a family and community and coming-of-age film. So of course there are Oscar possibilities. And it could be a strong acting Oscar nomination possibility for Ben Affleck.
I’ve been writing about this as soon as it was announced last year – because the Clooney and Affleck combination sells itself. They won a Best Picture Oscar together so the expectations are there. And this time, it’s George directing Ben, two of the biggest movie stars in the world, one directing the other. That’s already the story. And on top of that, The Tender Bar is a great story. Let’s start with the trailer:
This is one of my favourite books, and if you’ve been visiting this site over the years, you’ll know I’ve been putting it on my personal best book list since it came out in 2005. The way they’ve set up this preview, it’s exactly how the book felt for me: tangible, as tangible as the real-life people who were part of Moehringer’s upbringing. When you’re reading The Tender Bar you can almost smell JR’s house, you can definitely smell the bar, but more importantly you can HEAR the bar, and all the attendant sounds in a neighbourhood pub. This trailer is bringing back those sensations to me. The bar looks exactly how I pictured it. Christopher Lloyd is perfect as the grandfather and we’re already getting a sense of the collection of locals who would become JR’s support system and cheering squad: Bob the Cop, Cager, Colt, Jimbo, Smelly, Fast Eddy (is there a Fast Eddy in every pub?!), and other names I can’t remember now but I’m sure you can picture them already.
And then there’s Uncle Charlie, played by Ben. He’s PERFECT. Uncle Charlie is the guy who, you get the sense, could have made it but didn’t. For the most part, he seems happy bartending but you always wonder, was there more? And yet he’s not bitter, or at least he’ll never show that to you – but there’s a lot of experience he can share, a lot of pain he may not have totally processed yet but he’s there for JR as a sounding board, a guide, and maybe even a warning.
This isn’t exactly Ben Affleck, the person, but there are parts of it that crossover, that he can probably well understand, about choices and mistakes, about hard-earned wisdom that should be passed on, and certainly he would have some sense of what support and guidance feel like when you feel lost.
George and his producing partner Grant Heslov did an interview with Deadline recently and talked about why only Ben could play this part:
“CLOONEY: He was hungry for this, and Ben’s a better actor than he’s had the parts for. He came in and all you had to do is point everybody in the right direction and leave them alone, because they were all really accomplished actors. He has a great part, so he gets to show off what he can do.
HESLOV: It’s a performance that reminds you of his work in Good Will Hunting.
CLOONEY: But it’s been a while, and a lot of the parts haven’t asked that much of him.
HESLOV: What’s interesting is that, Good Will Hunting, these are the kind of parts that he should have been doing all along. But he always wanted to play Batman, he wanted to be that guy as opposed to being…
DEADLINE: I’m sure you can relate to that, George. You came to the conclusion you didn’t like the fit of the Batsuit, and from there you traveled a path with different priorities and choices…
CLOONEY: Also, he’s getting offered those roles, and you go where your bread is buttered, and sometimes they don’t butter your bread on Good Will Hunting. He was at the right place when we went to him, because he’s not getting paid much here. We got this call from him, and we got this text from him that I still have. It would take you half an hour to read it, but it was all about what he’s going to do with his part. This was just from reading the script the first time. He was all in.”
George also added later that Ben is “coming to the age where you get to grow into certain parts. I’m at the age where you grow out of them but he’s growing into them. This was exactly the right time for Ben and he was the first person we thought of [for the film].”
For months now, kicked off by Bennifer Summer, we’ve been seeing the latest Ben Affleck upswing, and if you go by what George is saying, about him “coming to the age where you get to grow into certain parts”, it seems as though his personal and professional sides are optimising at exactly the right time.
In addition to this role in The Tender Bar, his performance in The Last Duel has been well received too. So it’s just a matter of what performance has the best chances of getting him that first acting nomination. Because the support is clearly there. George Clooney obviously out here campaigning for him.
But now I’m wondering about the category. The Tender Bar is, ostensibly, JR’s story. Ben is getting a LOT of play in this trailer though. That may simply be a marketing decision – he’s a big name, alongside Clooney, and that’s how you generate interest; he’ll be the main draw cast member. As we have seen from Oscars past, certain actors often have better chances in the supporting categories, even if, really, in their films, they’re in lead roles, or co-lead roles. You’ll note in the trailer, Ben is billed first on the same title card with Tye Sheridan:
First and top billing usually means a lead role – so is it possible that the studio will be submitting Ben in the Best Actor category? Right now that race seems wide open. If there’s a frontrunner it’s Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog. Will Smith could also be a factor in King Richard. Beyond that I don’t know that anyone else has emerged in serious contention. So right now, at this point in the season, Ben could do it. And if that’s the case, if he really does go in for lead, his performance in The Last Duel, which is definitely supporting, could either just be a bonus for his Best Actor contention…or they could swing for a double nomination and see if his name shows up in both categories.
Now imagine the JLo glow if that happens.
Attached – George Clooney in New York last night.