Trees Lounge (1996) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language and drug use
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Steve Buscemi, Mark Boone Junior, Chloe Sevigny, Carol Kane, Elizabeth Bracco, Danny Baldwin, Anthony LaPaglia, Eszter Balint, Debi Mazar, Seymour Cassel, Michael Imperioli, Samuel L. Jackson, Mimi Rogers
Director: Steve Buscemi
Screenplay: Steve Buscemi
Review published November 26, 2004

Trees Lounge marks the first feature film written and directed by actor Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Living in Oblivion), showing that he has some talent behind the camera, as well as in front of it.  This modest film falls into the category of "character study", which generally means there there isn't a real plot or story follow, so much as a brief peek into a life of someone for a while, perhaps in the hope of learning a thing or two about a different mode of life, or as a reflection of our own.  Although it isn't really a significant film as a whole, there are enough good moments of interest and insights to make Trees Lounge a worthwhile experience for fans of slice-of-life independent flicks.

The title is actually the name of a bar in a Long Island suburb where down-and-out loser Tommy spends a good deal of his time, doing what he usually does with his time off from driving an ice cream truck, drinking until he can't drink no more.  His life in disarray, Tommy looks to put his life back together, but doesn't know where to begin, and looks for answers where many have looked before and only found more problems: the bottom of a bottle. 

Trees Lounge's strengths come from the assortment of characters that Buscemi surrounds himself with, and even if very few really factor in to the overriding story at large, as a reflection of the creeping loneliness that causes one to spend a good deal of time in a bar hoping for a better way out, it is quite effective.  This is a comedy and a drama, and although not a happy movie, the film isn't really a moral tale of the wrongs of alcoholism, and in fact, it never really discusses alcoholism overtly at all.  Actually, this is more of a movie about the dead-end rut of working class people in small town communities, and the local bar is a big part of the lives of those who have nowhere else to go for socializing or companionship.

Solid performances all around for this ensemble cast, with Buscemi playing what he generally plays: a likeable loser.  As a director, it's a good looking piece, and in keeping with the kind of small story it is.  As a writer, Buscemi does offer some good characterizations, as he is intimately familiar with the community where this takes place, having driven an ice cream truck himself in those very streets. 

Again, this is a character study independent film, and thus, not for everyone.  Without a discernible plot or goal in mind, some viewers may feel like this is a film about nobodies who do nothing for the duration.  Well, they are right in that regard, which seems to be the real point of the film in the end, as these are people who live from day to day without much to look forward to except to go to work and drink all night, then do it all again the next day.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo