It’s very likely that you haven’t heard of Stanley Tucci’s (and Campbell Scott’s) first cinematic creation, but it would be a colossal shame if you never found out about it. For starters, this movie is everything that movies in cinemas today aren’t. (And for some, this might be reason enough.) Crowned with a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the the New York Film Critics Circle Award, to name a few, this is a film which is quiet, meandering, and as tense as the string of an Italian violin. Though garnished amply with comedic undertones, it’s message is irrevocably tragic in that touching, heartwarming way that reminds you of your own living, breathing humanity.
The story centres around two radically different Italian immigrant brothers – the perfectionist Primo (Tony Shalhoub, sporting a formidable moustache) and the ambitious Secondo (Stanley Tucci, with his hair still intact and his Italian accent polished to perfection) – as they try to salvage their failing restaurant, Paradise, somewhere in the underbelly of 1950s New York. One day, the brothers are offered the chance to prepare a feast for Louis Prima, the famous singer and trumpeter of the day. If carried out right, this event could tow the restaurant out of oblivion and bankruptcy, so the brothers spend their last savings on supplies, invite a party of acquaintances for the evening, and get to preparing the biggest night of their lives…
Essentially, this movie is about the struggle between two (seemingly) opposing concepts, represented by each of the brothers. Stanley Tucci’s and Tony Shalhoub’s sensitive administration of their roles is complemented by classic mid-90s stars: Minnie Driver as Secondo’s girlfriend, Ian Holm as a competing restaurant owner and the gorgeous Isabella Rossellini as his wife, and Allison Janney as an involved florist. Marc Anthony has a funny, near-silent part as the restaurant helper, looking slightly more plump than what we’re used to.
The movie I could best compare it to would be The Godfather II – not for the story or the Italian characters, but for its focus on good food and the togetherness which inevitably accompanies it. Then again, Big Night doesn’t just feel like a family movie: both of Mr. Tucci’s parents helped out with production and styling, and I’m sure that many members of the cast and crew were good friends. As a matter of fact, although Mr. Tucci claims not to have wanted to make a movie about food, his love for it seeps from every shot. No wonder, then, that he published a cookbook of family recipes sprinkled with anecdotes from his personal life not long after.
Watch this movie if you’re looking for a story that feels authentic and homely. I can’t promise you a sugary sweet ending, but I guarantee that you’ll have a very good time. (Also, you might want to book a table at a nice Italian restaurant for afterwards. Just not a place that serves spaghetti and meatballs – you’ll know why after you’ll have seen the movie.) Enjoy!