You Don't Go To Work Everyday. You Got To A Bar Everyday: Trees Lounge (1996)

It is fitting that right off of my month of horror films, I got into something like Trees Lounge.  The film is about gross people, living in a gross existence dealing with the gross experiences surrounding their lives.  However, as Steve Buscemi's directorial debut, this focus on less than amicable persons manages to capture a few moments of beauty within these somewhat uninspired lives, as well as catch more than enough of the tragedy one can expect latent within the films subject.  Furthermore, the film captures a few moments of comedy, as one could come to expect when considering Buscemi is in control.  A criticism could be directed at this film for being somewhat slow in its pace and a bit all around in what exactly it is trying to say, but I cannot help but find a simple adoration in what is both being said and not said within the film.  The actors, a mixture of notable stars, indie icons and flat out amateur individuals allows for something that both seemingly reflects a film about drifting personas as well as a conscious commentary on the cyclical nature of joy and pain as it reflects a larger concept of humanity. It is quite likely that Trees Lounge could have been so much more, but I would argue for a directorial debut that it too could have been so much less.  It is hard not to find something to love about this film, even if the characters are inconceivably unlikeable.  The soundtrack is magnificent and contains a level of hipness that could easily cause one to think that it is a Jim Jarmusch film, a notion that would be seconded by the somewhat cursory nature of the relationships between the individuals in the film narrative.  Trees Lounge does not exist as a film concerned with overdramatizing life and all its woes, instead; it simply portrays one man's desultory movement around a small town, in which he finds many half-hearted friends, a night of fleeting love and quite a few enemies, ultimately, realizing that a life he thinks to be uniquely his own has already existed, and its outcome is less than welcoming.

Steve Buscemi plays a double role in that he is the director, as well as the the main character of the film, Tommy, a down and out alcoholic, whose severe gambling habits have cause him to become unemployed, losing his job as a mechanic after stealing from his boss Rob (Anthony LaPaglia), who just happens to be living with Tommy's ex-girlfriend, and possible mother of his child Theresa (Elizabeth Bracco).  Nothing seems to fair well for Tommy, he continually seeks jobs as a mechanic, only to be turned down, leading him to continually drink his evenings away, until the passing of his Uncle Al (Seymour Cassel) causes him to revisit many of his detached family members during a funeral.  Many of these family members are less than receptive to their alcoholic kin only offering passive acknowledgement of his presence, save for a close family friend's daughter Debbie (Chloe Sevigny).  After taking up Al's former job as an ice cream truck driver, Tommy finally appears to have things going for him, even making a close relationship with one of his fellow bar fly friends Mike (Mark Boone Junior), as well as spending much more time with Debbie.  It is, in fact, during one night at the bar that Debbie's appearance spurs Tommy to spend more time with the young girl, eventually leading to a night of them making out.  Debbie's father and close friend of Tommy's Jerry (Daniel Baldwin) discovers what Tommy has done and enters into a fit of rage, resulting in chasing him down about a baseball field grabbing a bat to take to not only Tommy but his ice cream truck as well.  The film then displays Tommy discussing an alternate future with Theresa in which they both would be happy sharing a child together, before he eventually heads back to the bar to take his place in the seat of a former regular whose leave of absence was due to health issues, suggesting his own future in the process.

The basic premise of Trees Lounge does not sound as though it will make for a particularly watchable film, viewers are essentially provided with a variety of druggie alcoholic individuals who fail to take any credit for their lives, particularly in that they seem more content with numbing their minds from their despair than actually rising above their situation.  One could certainly make this case for Mike who desperately wants to rekindle a relationship between his wife and daughter, but cannot bring himself to leave the bar for a day or to provide an honest account of anything to his wife.  Instead of accepting his problems, Mike continually blames his wife for refusing to accommodate his selfish demands.  Similarly, Tommy continually complains about the issues of not having a job and how it is affecting his ability to traverse through a confrontational world, yet seems quite content to blow what little money he has on booze, or ignore job offers that he deems above his character.  These descriptions certainly reflect a film in which the characters are not redeemable, but a larger issue of lack of communication and community influences the narrative.  Tommy, Mike and a few other regulars know each other closely, however, when it comes to helping one another do anything but drunkenly walk home they could care less for their safety.  For example, Mike has an opportunity to employ Tommy within his moving company but ignore his requests, perhaps because he figuratively cannot hear Tommy's cries for help, or literally does not want his stoic, cool bar persona to become connected to his rather loathsome public persona.  Even when Jerry assumes that Tommy might be taking a liking to Debbie, he could have been more adamant about it not occurring, but a lethal amount of indifference causes him to shrug his shoulders and inevitably let it occur.  Characters in Trees Lounge are afraid to communicate and this lack of interaction causes for a fractured and, continually, doomed community, one which Tommy is likely never to escape, and perhaps we should on a very small level feel bad for him.

Key Scene:  The entire baseball confrontation is perhaps one of the funniest things to ever happen in an indie film.

This film is well worth watching, buying a copy is perhaps not that necessary, but, thankfully, it is on Netflix watch instantly making a viewing quite easy.

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