Big Night (1996)

Twenty-six years ago today, the film Big Night premiered. Great story. Great cast. Exceptional soundtrack. It is everything you need. You should watch this movie.

Title: Big Night
Directed by: Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci
Produced by: David Kirkpatrick, Jonathan Filley
Written by: Joseph Tropiano, Stanley Tucci
Starring : Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Allison Janney
Music by: Gary DeMichele
Cinematography: Ken Kelsch
Edited by: Suzy Elmiger
Production Company: Rysher Entertainment, Timpano Production
Distributed by: The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release date: January 24, 1996 (Sundance), September 26, 1996 (United States)
Running time: 107 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English, Italian
Budget: $4.1 million
Box office: $14.2 million
Sundance Film Festival Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award – Stanley Tucci & Joseph Tropiano
Independent Spirit Awards Best First Screenplay – Stanley Tucci & Joseph Tropiano
National Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actor – Tony Shalhoub
New York Film Critics Circle Best First Film

On the New Jersey Shore in the 1950s, two Italian immigrant brothers from Abruzzo own and operate a restaurant called “Paradise.” One brother, Primo, is a brilliant, perfectionist chef who chafes under their few customers’ expectations of “Americanized” Italian food. Their uncle’s offer for them to return to Rome to help with his restaurant is growing in appeal to Primo. The younger brother, Secondo, is the restaurant manager, a man enamoured of the possibilities presented by their new endeavor and life in America. Despite Secondo’s efforts and Primo’s magnificent food, their restaurant is failing to gain success and recognition.

Secondo’s struggles as a businessman render him unable to commit to his girlfriend Phyllis, and he has recently been sleeping with Gabriella, the wife of a competitor. Her husband’s eponymous restaurant, “Pascal’s”, has succeeded despite (or perhaps due to) the mediocre, uninspired food served there. Desperate to keep Paradise afloat, Secondo asks Pascal for a loan. Pascal demurs, repeating a past offer for the brothers to work for him, which Secondo refuses: he and his brother want their own restaurant. In a seemingly generous gesture, Pascal insists that he will persuade popular Italian-American singer Louis Prima to dine at Paradise when in town, assuming the celebrity jazz singer’s patronage will revitalize the brothers’ business. Primo and Secondo dive into the preparations for this “big night”, spending their entire savings on food, drinks and decoration, inviting numerous people (including a newspaper reporter and Primo’s love interest) to join them for a magnificent feast showcasing a timpano (a complex baked pasta dish). Primo pours his heart into every dish, lavishing care and great expertise on the cooking.

As they wait for Prima and his entourage to arrive, the dinner party indulges in the exquisite food and partake in a fabulous celebration. Hours go by, however, and it becomes apparent that the famous singer is not coming, although a reporter who came to cover the singer’s appearance promises to ask his newspaper to send a food critic. Phyllis catches Secondo and Gabriella kissing and runs off to the beach. At Gabriella’s insistence, Pascal admits that he never called Louis Prima, thus ending the party.

Secondo follows Phyllis to the beach where they have a final quarrel. Primo and Secondo have a fiery, heart-wrenching argument, chafing at their mutual differences. In the wee hours of the morning, Pascal admits to Secondo that he set the brothers up for failure; not as revenge for Secondo’s affair with Gabriella but because the brothers would have no choice but to return to Italy or work for Pascal. Secondo refuses him, saying they will never work for him.

As dawn breaks, Secondo silently cooks an omelette. When done, he divides it among three plates, giving one to Cristiano, their waiter, and eating one himself. Primo hesitantly enters, and Secondo hands him the last plate. They eat without speaking, and lay their arms across one another’s shoulders.

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