A serio-comedy about a ne’er-do-well barfly, Trees Lounge reps a modest, agreeable directorial debut by indie acting stalwart Steve Buscemi. Pic takes a rueful, kaleidoscopic look at the petty feuds and minimal ambitions that dominate people’s lives in a working-class New York suburb.
Buscemi has said that his first outing as a filmmaker can be taken as a speculative autobiography, a projection of what his life might have been like had he never left the Long Island village of Valley Stream and gone into acting.
Tommy (Buscemi) is a joker, an alcoholic and, at 31, a loser. He spends amost of his time downing drinks at the neighborhood watering hole, the Trees Lounge, and conveniently lives above the ’50s-style establishment.
Plenty of people pass through the bar and Tommy’s life. Mike (Mark Boone Junior) is a family man with big problems at home. Uncle Al (Seymour Cassel) ups and dies, bringing diverse family members together. Debbie (Chloe Sevigny) is a hot little 17-year-old with a big crush on Tommy. It leads to an ill-advised night together that Debbie’s hot-headed father (Danny Baldwin) won’t let Tommy live down.
Neither the comedy nor the melodrama of these situations is punched up in a manipulative way, as Buscemi, seemingly taking his cue from indie pioneer John Cassavetes, roots everything in his characters and actors. Tech contributions on the low-budgeter are modest but solid.