The title of this finely humble film, Trees Lounge, is the name of a New Jersey bar that acts as thirty something Tommy Basilio’s (Steve Buscemi) second home throughout it‘s running time. We initially find him hung-over, waking up in the Trees fifteen minutes after last call, demanding a shot of Wild Turkey. Tommy has just been fired, broken up with his pregnant girlfriend of eight years whose now involved with his once friend and former boss Rob (Anthony LaPaglia). Despite unable to keep his own car running, Tommy mooches around town looking for work as a mechanic, but spends most of his time getting drunk at the Trees making strained if appropriate acquaintances with some of the locals. Namely one Mike (Mark Boone Junior), who himself has his own domestic issues but has chosen to spend his “vacation” coming to the Trees everyday.
One thing becomes clear to all around Tommy – including his family, that he is a bit of a sad sack loser. A leech that expects everything but is unwilling to do the work required for a person to change their life situation. Unable to really get over his previous relationship or find work, he ends up taking over his recently deceased Uncle’s Ice-Cream truck, causing more trouble than it’s worth involving the seventeen-year-old niece of his former girlfriend.
Made in 1996, Trees Lounge reminds you of what a real independent film feels like. In recent years, the line seems to have become blurred in the mainstream as too who or what exactly constitutes such a thing. However, this film is the debut work of a true artist in writer/director/star Buscemi. Made for less than two million dollars, the film’s confronting reality of the almost pointlessness of life at times, alongside an ensemble of great performances from the likes of Junior, Chloe Sevigny, Elizabeth Bracco and Daniel Baldwin give the film a real spirit and ironic humour. Buscemi himself, as the central Tommy, plays out a meditation in all things loserdom excellently. Bad choices, selfishness, alienation, you name it; Tommy justifies such a label to himself and to all around him. Coupled with all that happens up until the poignant, almost depressing ending, it is difficult to sympathize with or for him. Not that Buscemi as writer/director expects or even wants us too. The laid-back, but hardly laconic script slowly draws out circumstance in a very observatory way avoiding influencing the audience too much about how we should feel about these people. We can only gauge their actions, not really react.
A lesson to take from Trees then, is that life is what you make it – and sitting around in a dive bar all day will not help your cause. Tommy, and many like him, are destructive people to all who are close, never fully realising until it is too late. In short, and incorporating a great soundtrack to boot, Trees Loungeis a deeply humorous, albeit bleak slice of life that, if you let it, could possibly help put your own into perspective too.