Trees Lounge

Director: Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi, Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs and American indie cinema’s premier sleazebag, joins the ever-increasing list of actors-turned-directors (he also scripted and stars) with this extremely agreeable and reputedly autobiographical debut.
Buscemi plays Tommy Basilio, a 31-year-old unemployed Long Island mechanic and barfly who has a large chip on his shoulder and spends his days trading insults with the regular at his local tavern (the Trees Lounge of the title). He also pines after his ex-girlfriend Theresa (Elizabeth Bracco), now pregnant by his former boss and best friend Rob (the greatly underrated Anthony LaPaglia). When he inherits his uncle’s ice-cream van, Tommy’s potential salvation is threatened by his fooling around with a friend’s teenage daughter, Debbie (Chloe Sevigny of Kids).
While giving an appropriate nod to the gods of American independent cinema, John Cassavetes and Jim Jarmusch, Buscemi’s film is never derivative of the work of these film-makers, or indeed of the other influential figures he has worked with, such as the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino. One of the most admirable qualities of Trees Lounge is that it focuses on a decidedly unhip area of suburban American life. It’s clearly a world that Buscemi knows very well and he portrays it with a dry wit that’s punctuated by moments of genuine hilarity and pathos. Buscemi himself has described the film as a character study of working class misfits, a sort of bleak comedy about people who haven’t figured out their place in the world, but definitely know their place at the bar. What this perfectly accurate description doesn’t acknowledge is the deft touch the tyro director shows in balancing deadpan humour with an unsentimental understanding of the plight of his protagonists. There is no false moralising or romanticism here, but a wonderfully humorous acknowledgement of human failings.
Buscemi, the actor, shows a far greater range in Trees Lounge than his many supporting roles have allowed him, and it’s a credit to him as director that the many impressive supporting turns (including his In the Soup co-star and former Cassavetes stalwart Seymour Cassel, as well as the excellent Carol Kane and Samuel L. Jackson) complement rather than capsize the script. The leisurely pacing suits the aimless repetition of the lounge lizard lifestyle, and the constant stream of jukebox classics on the soundtrack are to die for. Never outstaying its welcome, Trees Lounge is as amiable and enjoyable as current U.S. cinema gets, and marks Buscemi as a considerable talent in front of and behind the camera.

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