All boozers need a shithole to drink in. It is imperative to find a place where they can ride out the useless hours in an alcoholic haze, free from life’s problems and the tragic terror that is responsibility. The irony that drinking might be the cause of their trials and tribulations is usually lost on those with lips perpetually pressed against the rim of a ten ounce pilsner glass. Why worry if you are two month’s behind on the rent with your landlord stalking you with the creepy grace of The Child Catcher? Fire back a shot of Wild Turkey and use your last quarter to play Argent’s Hold Your Head Up on the antique jukebox. Lamenting the fact that your ex-girlfriend is shacking up with your former best friend and boss? Make a run at the drunk girl two stools down. Her blood alcohol level is about as high as the hair on top of that woozy head. If you can keep her conscious long enough she would probably go down on you. She looks like she would be willing to drink her Aqua Net hair spray to keep her buzz going. Isn’t that an old song by The Ink Spots trying to wrestle your attention away from the stale beer and cigarette smell in the air? Women love their classic vocalizations. It makes them feel like they’re waltzing in the opulent ballroom of a Gold Coast mansion instead of fighting back chow threats in a dive bar on the Queens and Nassau County border. The latest argument with the agitated barkeep got you feeling like you need to lay down for some bed spins and nausea? The stalls in the men’s shitter are the perfect size for doing some bumps of generic neighborhood cocaine.
Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge is an independent comedy drama that centers around the stories that play themselves out amongst the perpetually plastered patrons of the ubiquitous corner bar. It approximates Bukowski the way a good cover band can make an intoxicated partier think they are really hearing Rush playing on that little stage off to the right of the dartboard. That really wasn’t Neil Peart that just hammered out that complicated drum roll. It sounded a lot like him, however. Don’t tell that woman how much you love Moving Pictures. Rush is chick repellant. Buscemi also wrote the screenplay and the audience wonders if he was one of those young men who read an abused copy of Factotum as they drank beers stolen out of the old man’s cooler growing up? Trees Lounge is definitely an entertaining little film that is a solid directorial debut from the outstanding actor with the funny looking teeth.
Buscemi plays Tommy, an out of work mechanic whose world is falling apart just like the piece of shit car he drives that he can’t seem to repair. Like a computer tech that can’t swap out a hard drive, Tommy is turned away from several auto shops run by surly grease monkeys. As he occupies a stool at the titular tavern, we learn that with each drink he downs–not always paying for them–the more abrasive he can become. Tommy has admitted to doing shitty things in the recent past, although he always has a good excuse for doing them. People like him usually do. Life is always trying to beat victims like Tommy down, the able bodied of relatively sound mind whose primary affliction might be something along the lines of unwanted honesty that only children and drunks feel the need to unleash upon those in their world. Why strive to rise above life’s challenges when it is easier to break a mid-level commandment and argue your defense in front of the bored jury seated around the bar like opinionated teachers playing cards and getting liquored up in the faculty lounge? When all else fails, drum up some sympathy as you turn out empty pockets when the bar tab comes due.
As we watch Tommy meander through the day like an empty beer bottle getting spun about on the curb by an aggravated April breeze, we can see why his ex-girlfriend Theresa (Elizabeth Bracco), now pregnant, has shacked up with Tommy’s ex boss and one time best friend Rob, played by Anthony LaPaglia. Bracco and Buscemi give us a nice scene showing the bond that still might exist between the two as Theresa is watching an old home video showing the two surrounded by family and friends when they were still together. We can see the look of hurt and uncertainty in Theresa’s eyes as she perhaps wonders if Tommy should have been given another chance. It may also be further proof that solidifies the fact that many women do not seek stability in a man even if that is the nice thing they say to their stable, but drab boyfriends or husbands.
Drinking may create unusual friendships and casual and not always attractive bedfellows. Over the course of a few drunken nights, Tommy strikes up a friendship with Mike, played by a relatively clean shaven Mark Boone Junior. Mike’s wife has just taken their daughter and moved back to the city. This leaves Mike to take up residence at the corner stool at Trees, watching the drunken antics go down as he quietly sips his drinks and tries to keep as much personal space as possible. Can’t a dude just get drunk without intoxicated assholes bumping into them and angrily apologizing? Boone Junior, best known for his role on Sons of Anarchy, is a consummate pro and he brings a pathos to Mike that makes him into someone that we all may know. Hell, Mike might be us. Mike is a good man going through a bad stretch. He might enjoy the carousing with young girls and whacking back lines, but every time the phone rings he is instantly ready to be a father and husband again. He wastes no time pushing members of his new life out the door to get it done.
Nineties Art House prom queen Chloe Sevigny turns up as Debbie, the not quite legal daughter of Jerry (Daniel Baldwin), a hot-tempered friend of Tommy’s from the neighborhood. As Tommy is always drinking himself into predicaments we know that something is going to happen with Debbie that will threaten physical harm coming to Tommy’s fragile, beer frazzled body. Sevigny brings a realistic insecurity to the role that makes Debbie rise above being a skid row Lolita. Buscemi draws out all the characters with an unrefined realism that you would find in people who inhabit this blue collar and sometimes unforgiving world. The tavern and the escapades that go on in between its four dingy walls is perfectly realized. Drinkers can go from friends to enemies in the amount of time it takes to down a shot of rotgut gin and Trees Lounge gives us that. The audience will either laugh with a nervous familiarity, or thank their lucky stars that they don’t frequent an establishment like Trees.
Buscemi gives us some nice directorial touches. One being a death that takes place in an Ice Cream truck. It is really well shot and it becomes sad and disturbing, even if we only met the character ten seconds before. It is not quite as harrowing as the ice cream truck scene in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, but it definitely deserves mention for its low-budget inventiveness. Like being stuck next to a seventy year old barfly with unholy halitosis as you wait for you friends to arrive, Trees Lounge can drag in spots, but that is a minor quibble. All in all, it is an entertaining flick that people shouldn’t mind investing 90 minutes on. That is three beers for most people. Five for me if they are going down smooth, or a woman I like is in the corner booth.