Big Night (1996) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 107 min.

Cast: Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Minnie Driver
Director: Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci
Screenplay: Stanley Tucci, Joseph Tropiano
Review published January 1, 2001

There's been quite a few good films revolving around the preparation and consumption of food, and as fine as those other films are, Big Night deserves a place right along with them.  It isn't the food that makes the film great, although I must admit it did look very appealing.  Really, it's the wonderful characters mixed with perfect direction that are the ingredients for what turns out to be quite a memorably entertaining two hours. 

There are many surprises within, starting off with the fact that such a terrific story could be created by first timers to the art of making movies.  Co-directed by actors Campbell Scott (The Daytrippers, Singles) and Stanley Tucci (It Could Happen to You, Prelude to a Kiss), it's quite difficult to imagine an experienced director could have made the film any better with the same script, along with the vision of two people so perfectly blending for a satisfying whole.  It's also Tucci's first screenplay, collaborating with Joseph Tropiano in what turns out to be his only screenplay to make it to the big screen. 

Tucci also stars as Secondo, the younger brother of Primo (Shalhoub, Addams Family Values), perhaps the best Italian cook in town.  They have emigrated to America to live out their dreams of a successful restaurant, only to be disillusioned because the American tastes cannot appreciate the authentically Italian cuisine Primo dishes up.  Refusing to compromise his tradition, the restaurant is starting to lose money, so Secondo visits a friend and rival business owner for assistance.  Although offered jobs with the other restaurant, Secondo still has his dream, and is offered the services of the great Louis Prima for an evening's entertainment.  The brothers pull out all stops for the event, rolling the dice for one last big night, in hopes of making their floundering restaurant a smashing success.

Like any well-cooked meal, Big Night is great because of the richness of the contents and the perfection of the creation.  The characters are colorful without seeming eccentric, with three dimensions full of traits both endearing and annoying.  The performances are solid, with Tucci and Shalhoub in particular shining in what may be the best performances in both of their careers. The wonderful dialogue fits in with the tone well, never seeming phony or pushing too hard to deliver a profound message, yet still doing so through the subtlest of ways.  Amazingly, it is the quiet moments that are the most memorable, taking the time to make things just right, which is also a common theme for the movie, both in cooking and in matters of love.

Big Night is a pleasant film, but isn't such a feel-good movie where everyone will come away pleased.  Although I found it one of the most entertaining films of 1996, if you are an impatient viewer, or dislike films which rely more on richly drawn characters than a fast-moving plot, perhaps this won't be to your liking.  This is not a film for fast-food junkies, but for those who like to spend an evening at a restaurant, enjoying the ambience, not caring that their meal takes a good deal of time to prepare.  Luckily, a good portion of the dialogue is subtitled Italian, as it was difficult to hear all of the dialogue over the sound of my stomach growling.

Qwipster's rating:

2001 Vince Leo