The Quarantine Stream: 'Big Night' Will Make You Hungry For Italian Food (and Thirsty for Stanley Tucci)April 5, 2021
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Big Night
Where You Can Stream It: Paramount+
The Pitch: Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub play Secondo and Primo, Italian brothers who moved to the United States to start their own restaurant in a small seaside town. But they’ve fallen on tough times, and with the bank breathing down their necks, a rival restauranteur (played by The Lord of the Rings actor Ian Holm) convinces them to throw one big blowout party at their restaurant as a last-ditch effort to gain enough publicity and new customers to stave off foreclosure.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: With Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy recently emerging as the hot new cooking show, why not take a trip back to the mid-1990s, when Tucci and co-star Campbell Scott co-directed one of the best food-centric movies in existence?
Shaloub’s Primo is the talented chef who views his cooking almost as works of art. He’s furious when a customer orders risotto and then asks for a side of spaghetti, because the two dishes don’t compliment each other. He uses his extensive training and impressive skill set to create a curated, pure meal for patrons, and gets riled up when they’re not sophisticated enough to fully appreciate his efforts. Tucci’s Secondo is more of a people pleaser, and also the money guy: while Primo is able to devote his full attention to pure creation, Secondo serves as the facilitator, manager, server, host, and accountant of the entire operation. Holm plays a skeezy owner of an Italian joint across the street, the kind of loud, flashy place that draws crowds because of its jazz music, drink menu, and aesthetic, but which serves comparatively worse food than his rivals. He wants the brothers to come work for him, and ends up orchestrating an elaborate plan to try to make that happen.
The whole film serves as a metaphor for being in a creative field, and the sacrifices that are often made in order to survive. You could look at it as a commentary on Hollywood, with Shaloub as a writer/director who wants to present his pure, uncut vision to an audience that is expecting something comforting and familiar instead of something that’s tasty but perhaps a bit more challenging. Minnie Driver plays Tucci’s character’s love interest, and the depiction of that relationship feels like Tucci and co-writer Joseph Tropiano working through what it must be like to be with someone who devotes their entire life to a creative pursuit and doesn’t have enough emotional maturity to be able to handle the work of a relationship at the same time.
As you can see, there’s a lot to like about the movie before you even get to the food porn…but my God, the food porn. It’s exquisite. There’s a dinner scene that features reaction shots of people digging into an incredible meal that took all day to prepare, and they all love the food so much that the expressions on their faces are almost orgasmic. The film introduced me to a dish known as a timpano, which looks absolutely mouth-watering, and watching this desperately made me want to go back to eat inside a restaurant – something I haven’t done in over a year. If you’re in the mood for a great Tucci performance (isn’t everyone?) or looking for your next great food movie in between episodes of Searching for Italy, look no further than Big Night.
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