Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci
Written by Stanley Tucci and Joseph Tropiano
Starring Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Ian Holm, Minnie Driver, and Isabella Rossellini
Available to stream on Netflix
Big Night is a movie about family, the American dream, and budding romance. Ok, not really. It’s pretty much a movie about food. Sure, it contains all those other things–brotherly love/hate, the immigrant struggle, and a handful of highly dysfunctional relationships–but it’s all connected by the cuisine.
The plot is something like this: Two Italian restaurateur brothers are on the verge of bankruptcy. Primo (Shalhoub) is the chef, a man obsessed with cooking and completely in love with food. He is an artist, a purist, a master. When a customer requests a side of spaghetti with her risotto, he calls her a Philistine. To describe a competitor’s food offerings, he screams “Rape!” at the top of his lungs. Good food is his reason to live. His younger brother Secondo (Tucci) is the realist, always worrying, and ready to sacrifice quality for success. He’s the focus of the film, but is not likable in any sense. Primo is the real hero.
In an effort to save their business the brothers plan an extravagant one-night event, an all-out party with jazz man Louis Prima as the honored guest. And although there are several things that come close to shutting down the big night, the meal must go on. This is when Primo goes to work, painting masterstrokes of culinary artistry. In a scene of almost unbearable deliciousness the meal is broken down into courses as it is served to the guests. In these moments the camera pays such respect to the food that it becomes a character in and of itself. The pasta, the rabbit, the soup, the dessert, and greatest of all the timpano, bless my soul. I feel my words are inadequate to describe the dish, but suffice it to say that my life will not be complete until it has rested in my belly.
All of this is perfectly played up by the writing and performances. One man tells Primo he should be killed for making such a magnificent meal. Later, a woman drunkenly sobs that her mother was a terrible cook. And all around the table are looks of ecstasy–that look you get when the meal hits the mmmm spot in your soul. “To eat good food is to be close to God”, one character says. Hmm, maybe that’s why we eat so much in church.