Written by Steve Buscemi
Directed by Steve Buscemi
It is very strange to see places I go by just about every single day of my life as the setting for a movie.
Steve Buscemi wrote, directed and stars in Trees Lounge. The name of the movie comes from the bar in which his character, Tommy, spends most of his time. His apartment is also above the bar, which gives me the feeling that his drinking situation is not about to change any time soon.
Tommy is quickly going nowhere with his life. He has been fired from his job as a mechanic for “borrowing” money from the register to go to Atlantic City. His former girlfriend is now married to his former boss and is pregnant. Tommy is unsure of who the father is, and the feeling is that he is not the only one.
The character of Tommy doesn’t set out to screw up his life; he is what I would term weak. Temptations put in his path easily lead him astray, no matter what the original intentions are. His drinking is the biggest problem, and he is waiting for a life-changing experience to stop, rather than stopping and watching his life change.
This movie is what is termed a slice of life movie. There is no real moral to the story; nothing is resolved in the end. We do not know if the baby is his or his ex-boss’. We do not know if he will be successful in finding a real job. It’s never clearly stated whether or not he sleeps with the seventeen-year-old daughter of a friend (and his ex-girlfriend’s niece) or if his protestations that Nothing happened are real. It does not appear that Tommy is about to change his ways. Indeed, it is alluded to that he is just taking over the place of Bill at Trees Lounge. Bill is a man who we meet but don’t know throughout the movie. He sits on the same bar stool, not saying much. In the end, Tommy is now sitting in his bar stool, probably headed for the same lonely ending as Bill.
Buscemi has done a wonderful job in this picture. His acting is believable as Tommy. The story has credibility. At one time or another, we have all probably known a “Tommy” in our lives. Maybe they managed to work their way out of being life’s loser, or maybe they descend the same way we see Tommy descending in this picture. His writing is excellent. The only weak spot I saw was if an underage person was going to bar-hop undetected, why would she go to the local bar where her father and his friends hang out?
The story is one that could be set in just about any town. Most towns – or neighborhoods – have a Trees Lounge. It is a place inhabited almost exclusively by locals; a place people go to gossip, to drown their sorrows, or to get away from their family when the need suits them.
I can tell you that although most of the actual movie is filmed in Valley Stream, NY, where Steve Buscemi grew up and went to Valley Stream Central High School and where I live. The bar in the movie is actually in Queens, NY. The actual bar this is based on (yes, there used to be a bar names Trees Lounge in Valley Stream) is now a sport-bar. It is also a one-story place which doesn’t have apartments above it.
In some ways knowing the town this was filmed in was a distraction for me. I kept trying to figure out where they were shooting the various scenes, especially while Tommy was driving around his late Uncle Al’s ice-cream truck. I did have the pleasure of seeing the scene involving the 7-11 being shot at about 6 a.m. one morning when I stopped in for a cup of coffee.
Having seen Buscemi actually direct a scene was a treat and something I won’t soon forget. Watching it translate to what I saw in this movie is even better.
There are some wonderful cameos in this picture as well. Samuel Jackson makes a brief appearance here, as well as Mimi Rogers. Debi Mazar has a slightly longer performance as a potential love interest for Tommy. Chloe Sevigny makes a pre-Last Days of Disco performance as the troubled seventeen-year-old who attaches herself to Tommy.
The movie is rated R for strong language and some drug use.
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