Director: Steven Spielberg 2022
THE TENDER BAR
DIRECTOR: George Clooney 2021
When a creative person says they want to be a creator, i.e. writer, film director, or comic book creator, it's not always met with enthusiasm. Instead it's often met with bewilderment and anxious projection. "What will you do for money?" and "how will you eat?" are likely questions that float around the listener's mind as they have never had the same creative drive the artist embodies. In fact, the listener might even blurt out those questions. I know, because that has happened to me on several occasions. I use to tell new people I meet that I make comics and after hearing a few, "That's an interesting hobby," or "do you make enough money from that?" I decided to reveal less about who I am. I'm very proud of what I do, but I'm starting to learn that I don't think everyone needs to know what I do.
I think comments like those come from the way our modern system works. I won't rant on about that topic too much, but we do not have a system that is set up for people who wish to pursue a creative life. Just as a note here, I'm not talking about being creative in the artisan sense; no, I'm talking being creative with a capital C - the one where you say, "I'm going to come up with my own ideas about something and turn it into a reality!"
Both The Fabelmans and The Tender Bar capture the spirit of that sentiment. Both protagonists - Sam Fabelman in the former and JR in the latter - strive to become creative people in a world that doesn't always understand what they are doing. In Sam Fabelman's tale, his world is represented by his kind, but industrious-driven father who wishes him to follow a conventional career route; while JR's dotting mother dreams of her son becoming a lawyer. But Sam's true love is in filmmaking; while JR's is in writing. In fact, this idea of "true love" is summarized with candid fervor by Sam's great uncle. In one of the most powerful moments in the film where Sam is torn between his duty for his family, and his desire to shoot a film, Uncle Boris - played with great baptismal fire by Judd Hirsch - proclaims to Sam, "Art will give you crowns in heaven and laurels on Earth, but also, it will tear your heart out...We're junkies. Art is our drug."
This dialogue struck a nerve in me and I realized while I understood it very much, it was a sentiment that wasn't accessible to many people. In fact, long after the film was over, my girlfriend and I had a discussion about that scene. While she understood the meaning of Uncle Boris' speech, she couldn't empathize with his passion. It isn't because she is more or less supportive of the arts, but she has never had the same inferno, single-track yearning to create. Ask a lot of artist why they do what they do and they'll tell you in some variation that it is because they are compelled to do so. At one point, the antisemitic jock, Logan asks Sam why, despite all the abuse they have given him in high school, did he positively portray him in a Senior Skip Day video for school. Sam posits that it might have something to do with avoiding another beat down or just how he saw Logan; but whatever it was, he is always compelled to capture things as they are.
Fabelmans' uplifting message about the creative pursuit hits home better probably due to the variety of themes woven into the story. It tackles many of the artist's plight: the dilemma of choosing passion projects vs commissioned projects, society's view of the arts, family duty vs the love of one's art. The last theme is at the heart of The Tender Bar, but only so slightly as it plays it safe and opting for a more feel good sentimentality. I'm a sucker for heart warming tales, but personally wished The Tender Bar chronicled more of JR's journey as a writer in his adult years. Much of the time is spent on his childhood through his young adult years going through school and eventually leading up to his decision to pursue his dreams. It motivates, but it doesn't show us the struggle to give us some grounded inspiration.
If you're deciding which one to start with, I would probably check out The Tender Bar first, and then, get your coat on, grab some treats and a fizzy drink, and enjoy the more thematically sophisticated, The Fabelmans.