Trees Lounge (1996)

“A story about one man’s search … for who knows what.” If you’ve ever skipped out on your dull, mind-numbing job and spent the entire afternoon knocking back stiff drinks in a rundown dive bar, then you can probably relate to Trees Lounge (if you’ve never done this in your life, I suggest you try it at least once for the experience!). The low-key film punctuated with dark humor was written and directed by Steve Buscemi, who also stars as an unemployed mechanic and underachieving, self-destructive boozer named “Tommy Basilio,” who spends an inordinate amount of time in the title bar hustling drinks, shooting the shit with fellow barflies like “Mike” (Mark Boone Junior), performing stupid bar tricks and casually attempting to pick up cheap floozies. Deserted by his girlfriend, Tommy eventually assumes his dead uncle’s ice cream truck route and recklessly embarks on a doomed relationship with his friend’s teenage daughter, “Debbie” (Chloe Sevigny). The aimless Tommy is full of existential angst: “I don’t know what I’m doing … I just feel like … I don’t know what I feel. I don’t feel anything. Except lost.” The solid cast includes Seymour Cassel (as “Uncle Al”), Carol Kane (as “Connie” the bartender), Mimi Rogers, Daniel Baldwin, Elizabeth Bracco, Anthony LaPaglia, Michael Imperioli and Eszter Balint (Stranger Than Paradise). In addition, Samuel L. Jackson appears in one scene as “Wendell.” A demented slice-of-life comedy-drama, Trees Lounge would make a great double feature with Barfly (1987). In a 2001 interview with The Guardian, Buscemi stated that John Cassavetes was probably his biggest influence as a filmmaker: “I saw all his films in a period of ten days … I loved the raw energy that I was seeing on film. I loved the actors … This seminar teacher said that you can’t start writing and not know where you’re going because you’ll get into trouble. What I learned from Cassavetes’ films was that it’s OK to get into trouble. Anything that you write, even if you have to start over, is valuable. So I started to write and didn’t worry so much about the story, and let the story write itself through the characters. That was a big help, because it freed my way of thinking.”

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