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Trees Lounge
1996 - R - 95 Mins.
Director: Steve Buscemi
Producer: Chris Hanley
Written By: Steve Buscemi
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Carol Kane, Chloe Sevigny, Seymour Cassel, Michael Buscemi, Samuel L. Jackson, Daniel Baldwin
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Let's be blunt: Steve Buscemi is one of the greatest actors of all time. And I say "actor," not "star," because he has re-defined the true art of divulging into character and literally performing so well we come to believe he is an entirely different person. He also has some of the best lines of all time. ("You're acting like a first-year thief; I'm acting like a professional"; "Whoa, Daddy!"; "You should see the other guy!")

In "Trees Lounge," his directorial debut, Buscemi (pronounced "Bu-schemy") plays Tommy, a struggling alcoholic living in a pleasant middle-America town. Tommy thrives on the Trees Lounge, a local bar, where he mopes about all day long in self-loathing, hitting on the bartender (Carol Kane) and getting into brawls. His life is an utter waste until he lands a job as an ice cream man and thereby sparks a daring relationship with a 17-year-old girl (Chloe Sevigny).

I'd be lying to you if I were to claim that "Trees Lounge" had a bare minimum of character metamorphosis. Tommy doesn't evolve very much throughout the film - in the beginning and until the very end he remains a miserable soul, unable to decide whether he's unhappy because he's drunk or drunk because he's unhappy. It brings to mind the speech by John Cusack in "High Fidelity," or even Mike Myers as Fat Ba$tard in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me": Are they unhappy because of their passion, or vice versa?

"Trees Lounge" is obviously a low budget effort by Buscemi, apparently powered by his own passion towards the project. A lesser actor and director might have turned "Trees Lounge" into an unfunny bar-based comedy in the vein of "Cheers," minus the likable characters and witty one-liners, and presented us with a one-dimensional character who displays all the characteristics of a hero and yet is found sitting in a bar all day long. Almost magically, Buscemi avoids these clich├ęs and reveals a wonderfully wise and observant character study of one man - and although he isn't always the most likable of people, he always manages to remain realistically crafted, and realistically kind - he does things we disapprove of, such as drinking, drugs, etc. Yet we never feel any content towards Tommy. Perhaps because he connects with a vital human element within all of us.

Indeed, Buscemi portrays Tommy as a very flawed character, and yet a strangely addictive one. I'm glad the focus of the story wasn't on someone else - out of all of the characters in the film, I liked Tommy the most, perhaps because he is given more depth and focus than the others. But yet I also firmly believe it has something to do with Buscemi's great acting abilities. As a character actor he is superb, and one of the funniest men in Hollywood - despite being what could be considered as a "serious actor." When he makes a movie as good as "Trees Lounge," it makes you wonder why he feels the need to pop up in all of Adam Sandler's tired vehicles. He's even the highlight in those films.

The film has its fair share of cameos, most noticeably by Samuel L. Jackson in a role similar to that he played in "Hard Eight." But where the film truly succeeds is not via the surface, but through a much deeper level of realism. We meet people like Tommy a lot. Whether it is drunkards or loafers, they're everywhere. "Trees Lounge" is disturbingly depressing on a very subtle level because of the way it deals with Tommy. It's hard to truly explain the feelings the film creates without ruining the ending, which I will resist doing. But it's unexpected and somehow very depressing on an unusual level. No stereotypical deaths or such bold turns in the screenplay. It's the subtle stuff that drives "Trees Lounge." It has its flaws but it also surpasses movies of its kind on a level that not many manage to do.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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