(Air Date: Week Of 10/23/96)
Watching Steve Buscemi play Tommy, the barfly, in "Trees Lounge", I kept being reminded of wholesome, All-American Jimmy Stewart. Tommy is like the grayish underbelly of a Jimmy Stewart who's gone off-track -- he's a good-natured, but hapless, All-American drunk. He doesn't really mean any harm, but he leaves a trail of disorder, if not downright destruction, behind him.
"Trees Lounge", the movie, has its focal point in Trees Lounge, the bar, a homey dive in a Long Island suburb called Valley Stream. The bar provides the unifying principle of the film as the cast swells into confusing, interconnecting branches of working class family trees. Just when your powers of keeping track are strained to the breaking point, the scene returns to the bar with its familiar faces, and suddenly -- like the folks who go there, I guess -- you feel better.
The cast reads like a Who's Who of independent film-dom -- Steve Buscemi, Writer, Director, and Star, is ex-mechanic, Tommy, and Elizabeth Bracco of In the Soup is Tommy's now-pregnant ex-girlfriend, who broke off with Tommy after eight years, and took up with his former boss, who fired him for, well, borrowing, fifteen hundred dollars from the till just to get through the weekend. Seymour Cassel, who dates back to John Cassavetes' films, plays Tommy's Uncle Al, who keels over dead while driving his Good Humor truck through suburbia. Al's son, Matthew, played by Kevin Corrigan of Living in Oblivion and Walking and Talking, snorts cocaine, while mourning the fact that he and his dad never got along.
There's Debi Mazar of "Jungle Fever", as the girl that Tommy passes out with before they can even leave the bar together; Mark Boone Junior as a bar regular, and Ezter Balint of Stranger than Paradise as his frustrated wife Marie.
Mimi Rogers has a cameo as Tommy's ex sister-in-law, and Chloe Sevigny plays his ex-niece Debbie, a seventeen year old with a crush on him. She drives around with Tommy in the Good Humor truck when he takes over from Uncle Al, and, though they don't really do anything much, Tommy gets in trouble with his ex brother in law when Debbie spends the night at his place. Carol Kane plays the barmaid, Connie, with the immortal line 'He musta drew his own conclusions.' And isn't that Samuel Jackson, Jr., sitting at the bar in a cameo as a furniture mover?
So, "Trees Lounge" is all about the drinking life, but, with the Good Humor truck, and the suburban hijinks, it's not exactly the sadsack scene of "Barflies" or "Leaving Las Vegas". It's an intricately constructed, good romp of a movie, with a furtive humor that hits the mark like a curve ball. I guess the moral here is that a drunken mechanic is less tragic than a drunken writer.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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