Friday, February 03, 2006

Movie Review: Big Night

U.S. Release Date: 9/27/96 (limited)
Running Time: 1:49
Rated: R (Profanity)
Cast: Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, Ian Holm, Allison Janney, Marc Anthony, Campbell Scott

Directors: Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci
Producer: Jonathan Filley
Screenplay: Joseph Tropiano and Stanley Tucci
Music: Gary DeMichele
Studio: The Samuel Goldwyn Company


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Big Night could easily be referred to as the Italian/American version of Babette’s Feast, considering numerous parallels are present. Not only does the film arc with a lavish meal in which all expenses are expunged, but it also matches the 1987 Danish/French feature in size and scope. With a pinch of poignancy and a dollop of comedy, Big Night is the perfect recipe for a warm, endearing evening filled with laughs, smiles, and feelings of satisfaction.

Two brothers, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci), are the co-owners of an authentic Italian restaurant called The Paradise. However, The Paradise isn’t the only Italian restaurant on the Jersey shore in the 1950’s. A sleek grotto across the street, called Pascal’s, presents itself as competition. The owner, Paschal (Ian Holm), operates under a “give the customer what they want” mentality, and unlike Primo and Secondo, Paschal knows how to pack in a crowd.

After being informed that the bank will foreclose on his business if a payment is not received by the end of the month, Secondo asks Pascal for assistance. While unable to provide any monetary support, Pascal tells Secondo that he will invite his good friend and jazz legend Louis Prima to The Paradise for dinner. Pascal promises that this will, in turn, increase business and profitability for the two brothers.

Meanwhile, in addition to encountering financial troubles, Secondo runs into trouble with his girlfriend, Phyllis (Minnie Driver). To boot, Primo finds it difficult to speak to his flower-girl love interest, Ann (Allison Janney). Nevertheless, both brothers hope that with all they have on the line, one big night – with a jazz legend in attendance – will be just the ticket they need to get back on their feet in more ways than one.

Three cheers for Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott. Not only is their acting on-par with the rest of the ensemble cast, but their directing is also creditable—especially considering this film represents the first time for both men to sit in a director’s chair. Even with one-too-many unnecessary profanities and one poorly-shot scene that makes it blatantly obvious that Ian Holm has no clue how to tickle the ivories, Tucci and Scott have crafted a near-perfect, top-shelf food film.

Positively, it is Tony Shalhoub who steals the show with his spot-on accent and his side-splitting comedy. His description of Pascal’s cooking as “the rape of cuisine” and his labeling of a woman, who orders two starches as “a criminal,” are both unforgettable quotes. Yet, even amidst Shalhoub’s standout performance, Ian Holm still manages to entertain with his refreshingly hysterical role, despite his Italian accent being hit-or-miss. In addition, Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, and Allison Janney are also notable in their respective roles.

All things considered, Big Night is as rich and sumptuous as any film in its genre. It is a picture that is best watched on a full stomach; otherwise, you are sure to salivate for the better part of the running-time. It is a dynamic and comedic ode to the ever-standing battle between art and commerce, and above all, it speaks volumes of the bonds of brotherly love.

With its magnificent closing scene, which depicts Secondo cooking breakfast for three in one beautiful unbroken 5:22 take, Big Night elevates its status to al dente. And, as Secondo informs Primo towards the opening of the film, “If you chop the garlic too fine, that is all you’ll taste.” In the case of Big Night, thank the heavens; the garlic is just right, and the result is a film you can bite into at any point and taste a vast array of effectual and sensational flavors. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006