Big Night (1996) – Art vs Commerce, brotherhood and delightful performances

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Stanley Tucci stars in and directs the 1950s set comedy Big Night, which is not only one of the best movies made about food but also one of the best movies made about people. Nothing much happens throughout it’s 107-min runtime but watching the characters and their amusing interactions is fun to watch and is worth the time spent. It has the feelof a sitcom and the closest sitcom that it can be compared to is my favorite, Everybody Loves Raymond. I’m pretty sure that Big Night was a major influence on the show. Like Raymond, Big Night is about two brothers as well and their interaction at times is reminiscent of Ray Romano and Brad Garrett’s. It’s about two Italian brothers who are trying to make it big with their restaurant business in New Jersey. The first 8 minutes does a good job of setting up the primary theme of the film: art vs commerce.

The two Italian brothers are Secondo (played by Stanley Tucci) and Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and in the beginning of the film,they are shown working in the kitchen and then later arguing about whether they should serve the customers the food that they want them to have or the food that the CUSTOMERS want to have. It’s been 2 hours since anyone has come to their newly opened restaurant and when finally does come, it leads to an argument between them. The customer is a woman and she has ordered Risotto. She lets them know that it’s not what she expected. Primo knows what he is doing and he is seemingly a genius when it comes to cooking and he is shocked when she orders for a side dish of pasta. He calls her a criminal and demands to talk to her. He tells Secondo: “What? They both are starch. Maybe I should make some mashed potato for the other side.” Secondo doesn’t understand what’s happening and finally tells his brother to go talk to her. Primo, takes a peek at her from the kitchen and remarks in an Italian accent: “Nah. She is a philistine. I’m not gonna talk to her. She won’t understand anyway” and hurls a cooking vessel at a door in rage.

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There is a nice assortment of other immensely talented actors in the film such as Ian Holm who plays Pascal and Isabella Rosselini as Pascal’s mistress. Pascal too, runs a restaurant business and his is placed just across from theirs. He knows that the brothers’ business is not going as planned and suggests to Secondo that they both come and work for him. Secondo knows that a proposition like this would really upset his brother. Pascal serves his customers what they want, unlike the brothers. He tells Secondo: “A guy works all day, he don’t want to look at his plate and ask, ‘What the fuck is this?’ He wants to look at his plate, see a steak, and say ‘I like steak!’” Ian Holm is simply fabulous here as the eccentric Pascal who has an odd sense of humor. On the other hand, when Secondo asks his brother about his opinion on taking off Risotto off the menu, he seems to accept right away but then makes a suggestion sarcastically: “Let’s serve them….what’s it called?……Oh hotdog! Hotdoooooog.” He also adds: “Give people time, they will learn”, to which Secondo retorts by saying: “This is a restaurant. It’s not a fucking school.”

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Also starring in it is an Italian actor named Pasquale Cajano, who had worked with Martin Scorsese on the film Casino.  Here he plays the brothers’ uncle. Primo confides everything in him and tells him about his dissatisfying experience working inside his brother’s restaurant. His uncle suggests that he come to Rome and help him with his restaurant and that he would do well there. Primo seems a little interested in this idea. Pascal tells Secondo that he will ask his friend, a big singer named Louis Prima to visit his restaurant in order to save his business. Excited at this thought, the brothers wastes no time preparing a big feast for the expected visitors. But things are not what they seem. The idea for the film came to Tucci when he was unable to find some solid parts for him to play at the time and finally decided to write one himself. My favorite scenes are without a question, the opening and the ending scenes. It’s such a moving scene and tells everything you need to know without the aid of dialogues or music. It’s a work of pure genius!

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