“The Tender Bar” is a film we’ve seen before – a coming-of-age story where the hero overcomes setbacks in his or her home life with the help of a wise mentor.

Working from a novel by J.R. Moehringer, George Clooney steps behind the camera again and creates a pretty standard, middle-of-the-road drama where the only true spark comes from Ben Affleck’s impressive performance. He’s the only reason any of the film works.

“The Tender Bar” is based on Moehringer’s life, with the story following J.R. (played as an adult by Tye Sheridan and as a child by Daniel Ranieri) still trying to deal with his father leaving the family shortly after his birth.

As J.R. heads off to college, we see through flashbacks how his father’s disappearance played a huge role in his childhood and how he gravitated toward his uncle Charlie (Affleck), a bartender at a Long Island pub who spouts wisdom as he pours drinks.

Clooney frames the story with a voiceover that sounds like outtakes from the TV series “The Wonder Years.” It’s one of several missteps in direction that continue to plague Clooney’s career as a director. After a promising start with “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “Good Night and Good Luck” Clooney’s resume as a director has been spotty at best.

Mediocre directing only magnifies the problems with the script, which relies so much on coming-of-age drama tropes that audiences will be able to navigate this story long before it arrives to its final destination.

Sheridan is a rather bland lead, although Ranieri fares slightly better. Lily Rabe, as J.R.’s mom, is wasted in a rather blandly written role, and his dad – a radio disc jockey listed in the credits as “The Voice” (Max Martini) – is pretty much your standard Hollywood-created bad parent.

It is nice to see Christopher Lloyd as the eccentric grandfather, but even his character becomes a little too much.

Yet as messy as everything else is in “The Tender Bar,” the one shining grace is Affleck’s work as Charlie. He takes a role we’ve all seen before and makes it fresh and exciting, breathing life into a film that is otherwise lifeless. While this isn’t Affleck’s best work in the last year – he deserves awards consideration for “The Last Duel” – it is still compelling none the less.

Affleck does everything he can to lift this material, but even his strong work isn’t enough to save a movie that ultimately feels like it is going through the motions.

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