Steve Buscemi’s directorial debut from 1996 (which he also wrote) remains something of a cult film, often forgotten. I’m never really sure why, I think it’s rather brilliant. It’s got the toughness of Bukowski; the low-key observations of Carver, and dry humour of Jarmusch.
Buscemi plays Tommy, a man who has lost his ex, Theresa (Elizabeth Bracco) to his best friend Rob (Anthony LaPaglia) and more recently, his job as a car mechanic, and now spends most of his time drinking at the titular Trees Lounge bar.
His insistence that he’s not an alcoholic is second only to the promise that he’ll find another job, and pick up the pieces again. His family and friends are seeing things differently, and the film is punctuated by much brawling, as Carol Kane’s no-nonsense bar owner Connie shouts out “last orders” like a ritual each night.
When Uncle Al (Seymour Cassel) the local ice cream man, dies of a heart attack in his truck one day, Tommy is asked if he’d like to take over. Who better than the feckless, wiry barfly, right? Hmm. Add to the mix, a seventeen year old Lolita figure in the form of Debbie, played by Chloe Sevigny, and the film takes a stranger route than first expected.
It’s a flawless debut, full of heart, truth and pathos. The whole cast are superb, characters marinating in disappointment. Buscemi himself flits between annoying and charming, and La Paglia is a fine foil as tetchy Rob. The supporting cast are all fantastic too: Debi Mazar as Crystal, Samuel L Jackson as Wendell, Bronson Dudley as Billy, Mark Boone Jr as Mike, and many more.
There’s a deliberately subtle approach: these lives are small, remarkable in just how unremarkable they are. No glamour is invoked, few lessons learned, and people remain stuck in corners, with no way of wriggling out. These are small-town folks crushed by life, and Buscemi’s keen -eyed script casts no judgment on anyone: it’s sad, funny and a little bit caustic: straight, no chaser.
2 thoughts on “Overlooked Classics: Trees Lounge”
Funny this is one of many films I watched back in the days when I drank and guess what?! I can’t really remember it. Ha! Now that I’ve gone sober a few years ago there’s like all these new movies and books it seems! But enough about me. Great write up here. Thanks!
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Oh, the irony! Still think it holds up well. Buscemi based it on his own pre-season acting drinking days 😊
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