Review: Trees Lounge (1996)

>> Wednesday, March 12, 2008

USA/C-94m./Dir: Steve Buscemi/Wr: Steve Buscemi/Cast: Steve Buscemi (Tommy), Mark Boone Junior (Mike), Chloë Sevigny (Debbie), Carol Kane (Connie), Daniel Baldwin (Jerry), Anthony LaPaglia (Rob), Elizabeth Bracco (Theresa), Seymore Cassel (Uncle Al)

Steve Buscemi is the modern-day equivalent of Peter Lorre. Like Lorre, Buscemi is the most recognizable character actor of his generation, and he is a talent capable of raising a movie’s class and entertainment value with the briefest of appearances. After building an impressive acting resume working for some of today’s top filmmakers, Buscemi decided to try his hand behind the camera. His feature writing and directorial debut, Trees Lounge, went on to prove that Buscemi is as adept behind the camera as he is in front of it.

Buscemi portrays Tommy, an alky lowlife, who makes a habit of screwing up his relationships with females, friends, family, and employers. When we meet Tommy, he has plenty of reason to drink (not that he needs a reason), having recently been fired from his job by his former friend/boss, Rob (Anthony LaPaglia), for “borrowing” money from the till. Rob has also taken Tommy’s long-time girlfriend (Elizabeth Bracco), who is several months pregnant (likely with Tommy’s child). Rather than trying to reassemble the shreds of his life, Tommy spends the best part of his days and nights drinking in Trees Lounge, a dimly lit dive, populated by whiskey-sodden losers like himself. Although it appears that Tommy has hit rock bottom as the movie begins, the perpetual screw-up manages to find new ways to plumb even lower depths.

As a slice-of-life drama focusing on a fringe personality, Trees Lounge should be dreadfully depressing. Thankfully, it is anything but, due in large part to Buscemi’s colorful script which includes just enough quirky humor to keep the story from descending into dismal-land. Buscemi also knows how much a good character actor can add to a scene, so he has packed his film with the best in the business. Even the smallest, single-scene roles are assayed by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Debi Mazar, Michael Imperioli, and Seymour Cassel. Buscemi draws vibrant performances from his top-notch cast, and his direction is sure-handed, simple, and effective. One would never know that a first-timer was calling the shots.

All in all, Trees Lounge is a tasty and satisfying cocktail. Rather than being a good first film, it is an excellent movie by any standard. Soused cinema enthusiasts should consider it required viewing. In short, it is the best bar movie since Barfly (1987).

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey, beer, and unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, swearing, drunk driving, bickering, and brawling

Potent Quotables--VIC: (pouring a drink): You’re a weak man.
TOMMY: Yeah, I know. That’s why I drink it straight. The ice cubes are too heavy.

Video Availability--Trees Lounge DVD (Lion's Gate)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Trees Lounge and Barfly (1987) are a perfect pairing for a lowlife dive double-feature.

2 comments:

The Shark Guys March 16, 2008 at 5:38 AM  

I'm with you completely on this one Garv. A great unsung booze movie classic from the 1990s.

Buscemi, like Bukowski, knew what he was writing about -- he said that had he not become an actor, he might well have ended up holding down a stool in a place like Trees Lounge. It worked out because now he can afford better bars, and b) we were given this great film. Even Ebert, in his review of this one, called it "the most accurate portrait of the daily saloon drinker I have ever seen."

I've considered this one an unsung classic of the genre. Good to see it getting some deserved accolades. Highly recommended!

Ed Lamb April 12, 2008 at 6:33 AM  

This is the only stop-the-remote, don't-answer-the-phone, my-afternoon-plans-are-canceled movie I have. It's brilliantly written and acted, and I used to have a neighborhood dive in D.C. that was so much like Tree's Lounge it might as well have been named that.

I agree that everyone should see this film.

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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