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#15. Big Night - Review

Big Night PosterThis small indie film from 1996 turned out to be a real delight. Big Night seems simple enough, two Italian immigrant brothers struggling to keep their restaurant open are called upon to host a big dinner for the famous musician Louis Prima and his band. With the singer comes newspaper headlines, followed by curious diners with money to spend. What this film is really about however, is the difficult love that is shared by brothers. Stanley Tucci (Secondo, the businessman) and Tony Shalhoub (Primo, the chef) are marvelous in this picture. But Primo is more than just a chef, even more than an artist. He is a genius in an apron, willing to spend hours preparing the perfect dish, because he loves to cook.

Unfortunately, it seems his creations are too perfect, at least for American tastes. Business is beyond slow, it is at a halt, and partially because the food is just too authentic. In the opening scene, we are introduced to Primo slaving away on a plate of seafood risotto, completely dedicated to this dish. When the guest receives her food, she is unhappy because she doesn’t see any shrimp. This of course escalates into a battle of wits between the two brothers and the woman, but as is always in life, the checkbook is mightier than a desperate man’s dignity.Stanley Tucci (Secondo) and Tony Shalhoub (Primo) in Big Night

Secondo has the miserable role of not only pacifying his increasingly frustrated brother, but also has full financial responsibility for his Paradise Restaurant. What it must be like to be the brother of a genius? Secondo cares as much for Primo’s work as Primo himself, and respects his process. There is a wonderful scene where Secondo seeks advice, and perhaps a loan, from a friend and fellow restaurant owner. His friend will not give him the money, but he will offer somewhat crude advice on how to make it in America: “Bite your teeth into the ass of life and drag it to you! 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’!”

The actual Big Night is a build up of love affairs, double-crosses, best friends, new relationships, and of course, wonderful food. This dinner for Louis Prima is the last chance Paradise Restaurant has at keeping the doors open, and the brothers know it. So the only question is, do the boys give the musician steak, or seafood risotto? 

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