Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci, Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, Ian Holm, Liev Schreiber, Allison Janney, Campbell Scott, Marc Anthony, Larry Block, Caroline Aaron, Andre Belgrader, Peter McRobbie, Pasquale Cajano, Christine Tucci, Gene Canfield, Tina Bruno, Peter Appel, Jack O'Connell, Karen Shallo, Alvaleta Guess, Tamar Kotoske, Robert W. Castle, Susan Floyd, Dina Spybey, Seth Jones
Written by: Joseph Tropiano, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 107
Date: 01/24/1996

Big Night (1996)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Food Boys

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Movies are organic. Some movies pulse with a life blood. Other movies hit at the stomach and turn it inside out. Still others affect silly organs like a pancreas or a spleen. Big Night is a heart. Rather I should say it has a heart. It may actually hurt to watch this movie, its heart is so big.

It's the story of two brothers, Secondo and Primo, who come to America to open a real authentic Italian restaurant in the 1950's. Not just the kind that serves spaghetti and meatballs, but the kind that has risotto. But America isn't ready for such exotic food, and their business is failing. So the owner of their competition across the street promises that he can get Louis Prima to come to their restaurant, and that they have a big blow out party.

Secondo, played by Stanley Tucci, and Primo, played by Tony Shalhoub are wonderful, beautiful men. You instantly fall in love with their charm and naivete. Their dream is so small and modest and attainable, and they've come so far, and they just don't have any idea how ruthless and backstabbing Americans can be. Primo is in love with a woman who sells flowers, and he can't hardly speak to her, he is so overcome by shyness. Later, at the party, he gets her into his beloved kitchen and finds he is able to talk about food, and then he talks like a poet ("Lasagne is so fucking good, you just have to kill yourself")! Primo is of the old world, and doesn't understand why people don't like his food. Secondo has bought into the American Dream, and gives everything he has to make the restaurant work. He's dating an American girl, Phylis, played by Minnie Driver, and screwing Ian Holm's girlfriend, played by Isabella Rossellini. He test drives a Cadillac, dreaming of the day...

Very few movies are dedicated to the preparation of beautiful food, when the medium seems to suit it so. Seeing colors, textures and characters' reactions, the viewer uses their imagination to fill in the smells and tastes. Truly, you can't come away from Big Night without being hungry.

I also must say that this movie should have won a rack of Oscars, but it wasn't nominated for a single one. The ensemble cast is superb. Minnie Driver, an English actress doing an American accent, has a beautiful, angled face, and stares fearlessly at us, allowing us to see her beauty full-on. She has an unpredictable hair-trigger, and a fierce intelligence. She's likely to jump up and slap us at any time. If she can continue to get good roles (difficult in Hollywood), she'll be one to watch. Ian Holm is the movie's charming villain, and it's one of his greatest performances ("I love this fucking guy!"). The moment when he pounds on the table, screaming "fuck!", silencing the room, is unforgettable (and funny--I won't give away the joke). Isabella Rosellini is sexy and smart, quietly twirling around the edges of the story, waiting for her moment. Campbell Scott, who co-directed the movie, is a fast-talking (and likable; they're all likable) Caddy salesman.

Tucci and Scott share the directing credit for Big Night, and it's appropriate. The spirit of the movie is of the whole, and not the egomaniacal vision of one artist. The movie's one flaw is that it succumbs to using MTV-style musical montages every once in a while, but the movie is so darn charming, you don't care. It's also difficult, for a long time, to tell when the movie takes place. In the end, though, I think this timelessness will make the movie age well.

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