Film: Big Night

I quite enjoyed Big Night (1996), a small story with heart, humor, and an unusual directorial sensibility. Set in the 1950s, it follows the efforts of brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) to keep their authentic Italian restaurant afloat. Secondo wants to give their unsophisticated American customers what they want, but Primo refuses to sacrifice the integrity of his dishes. When the bank threatens to foreclose on their business, they arrange for a visiting jazz musician to come to the restaurant, and pull out all the stops to throw one last party in the hopes of saving their dream.

Big Night unfolds like an episodic play, allowing for authentically quirky conversations, lingering shots, and long stretches of realistic interaction. As the situation develops, it peels away mysteries about the brothers and adds enlightening depth to their relationship. Ultimately it builds to an extended climax: a magical night at the restaurant, where their vision for the business is realized. Tucci and Shalhoub are sympathetic in the leads, and they’re surrounded by great supporting performances from the likes of Minnie Driver, Allison Janney, Campbell Scott, Isabella Rossellini, and most notably a scene-stealing Ian Holm. It’s an agreeable and touching story about food, family, and pursuing a dream; not a flashy film, but an earnest and authentic one.

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