It hasn’t been a good few weeks for our no-hoper Tommy (Steve Buscemi). He lost his job and his girlfriend left him for his best friend who was also his boss. Apart from making a poor effort looking for a job, Tommy’s life revolves around the neighbourhood bar Trees Lounge, a place full of peculiar individuals. As our protagonists drunkenly drifts through life, Tommy is in desperate need of a change of existence beyond the confinements of the bar stall he so often sits on. Written and directed by Steve Buscemi, Trees Lounge (1996) is his directorial debut but there always were signs for a promising film career. Fargo (1996) came out the very same year and going further back, Buscemi was also in two of Quentin Tarantino’s most iconic films Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994). Buscemi’s barfly drama and comedy is so much more than an out of job mechanic who virtually spends all his time in the neighbourhood watering hole. His effort to take hold of his life leads him to ambiguous ethical choices through his life.
In a small blue collar town where nothing much happens, Tommy finds solace in drinking his problems away at the Trees Lounge and even rents a room upstairs so the commute is more convenient. Tommy befriends an unhappy family man Mike (Mark Boone Junior) whose idea of a vacation is to also drink at the Lounge. It seems that Tommy’s ambition to get his life back on track is handicapped by indolence, alcohol and a disastrous love life. As Tommy continues and amplifies his pattern of self-destructive behaviour, his love life takes an even darker turn when he falls in love with his friend’s teenage daughter Debbie (Chloë Sevigny).
Trees Lounge is blessed with a bunch of real colourful supporting actors, from Kevin Corrigan, Samuel L Jackson, Anthony LaPaglia and Steve Buscemi’s brother Michael Buscemi. Even The Sopranos co-star Michael Imperioli makes a quick appearance. Sopranos creator David Chase would later hire Steve Buscemi to direct the "Pine Barrens" episode and star as Tony Soprano's cousin Tony Blundetto during the show's fifth season.
A film partly inspired by autobiographical events, Trees Lounge is certainly a hidden barfly gem. It is a well-executed black humour film that explores the destructive nature of an alcoholic. Buscemi not only performed brilliantly, his writing and directing showed an accurate portrayal of the daily saloon drinker trapped in sorrow. Trees Lounge is a blue collar drunk character study, conveying the gradual downward spiral of our protagonist. It’s a story that rubs shoulders with Charles Bukowski’s novels Post Office (1971) and Factotum (1975).