The Austin Chronicle

Trees Lounge

Rated R, 94 min. Directed by Steve Buscemi. Starring Steve Buscemi, Mark Boone Junior, Chloƫ Sevigny, Michael Buscemi, Anthony LaPaglia, Elizabeth Bracco, Daniel Baldwin, Carol Kane, Bronson Dudley, Eszter Balint, Kevin Corrigan, Debi Mazar, Samuel L. Jackson, Seymour Cassel, Mimi Rogers.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 25, 1996

Trees Lounge is the neighborhood bar that 31-year-old, out-of-work, alcoholic Tommy Basilio (Steve Buscemi) considers home. Actually, he lives in an apartment over the bar, but even that convenience doesn't prevent him from crashing out on the barroom floor when the spirit moves him. In between boilermakers, Tommy tries to cajole his old boss Rob (LaPaglia) into giving him back his old job as an auto mechanic -- a job he lost after borrowing $1,500 from the till without asking. Tommy has also lost his girlfriend Theresa (Bracco), who has taken up with Rob and is currently pregnant, although there remains a degree of uncertainty regarding the paternity. Tommy's is a life of bourbon shots, bar bets, and pick-up lines, brightened by the dark humor of his quick wit and the camaraderie of his fellow barflies. A brief spate of redemption occurs when Tommy picks up the ice-cream-truck route of his deceased uncle (Cassel). But when he crosses a sexual line with the eager 17-year-old assistant Debbie (Sevigny, who was so arresting as the HIV-infected teen in Kids), even Tommy realizes (after the fact) that he has screwed up. Of the many actors who've tried their hands as directors this season, Steve Buscemi may turn out to be the most exciting of the crop. As an actor Buscemi has practically become a poster boy for the modern American independent film movement. With that pallid skin tone and permanently pestered expression (the kind of face you hate to love), Buscemi has appeared in virtually every major independent film of the last 10 years (Parting Glances, Mystery Train, Reservoir Dogs, Living in Oblivion, and Fargo are just a few titles). Thus, it's appropriate that Buscemi's directing debut builds on its film antecedents. Most clear is the influence of John Cassavetes in the way Trees Lounge allows its characters to ramble toward self-discovery, wantonly swaying between likability and loathsomeness in equal measures. Trees Lounge was cast with several of the actors specifically in mind and, on the whole, the film is populated with friends of Buscemi's and a wealth of cameo appearances. Trees Lounge gives the appearance of being slight, spontaneous, and effortless. It would be easy to write off Buscemi's maiden effort as a serendipitous fluke, but just like that squirrely face of his, you know that surface values are merely the outer layer.

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