by request: 12 years a slave (steve mcqueen, 2013)
throw this back

by request: big night (campbell scott and stanley tucci, 1996)

(Requested by Tomás)

I’d seen this long ago, but thought it worthy of another look, and I’m glad I took that opportunity.

Big Night is an indie movie with a meta-subtext. Paradise, the restaurant run by brothers Primo and Secondo, is a quality venue that lacks patronage because of the big flashy Pascal’s across the street. Paradise offers the best food Primo can create. Pascal’s offers “what the people want”. Big Night cost a little over $4 million, and got its money back … did $12 million in the U.S., and I don’t know how much overseas. But in domestic grosses it finished 116th for the year. For comparison purposes, Independence Day got more than $300 million in domestic grosses.

None of this is to say that Big Night is a good movie, or Independence Day a bad one. I like them both. But it’s an interesting undercurrent to Big Night.

I will say that a second viewing convinced me that Big Night was better than I remembered. The various dishes Primo concocts are made with such care, and presented in such an enticing fashion, that they are like characters in the movie. But Scott, Tucci, and writer Joseph Tropiano (Tucci’s cousin) don’t let Big Night get too precious. They remember to create human characters with as much care as Primo makes his timpano. Big Night is an orgasmic treat for food lovers … I watched it on TCM, where it was introduced by Anthony Bourdain, who is a big fan. But it’s also an actor’s delight, and it’s easy to understand how they were able to get such a strong cast: Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Allison Janney and others.

Big Night sits out there in Indie Limbo. It isn’t on any of the They Shoot Pictures lists. There was a DVD release in the early days of that format, but to the best of my knowledge it’s out of print, and there has never been a Blu-ray edition. You have to catch it at random, on TCM or streaming on Netflix. It’s worth it. 8/10. I’m having a hard time thinking of other restaurant movies … Ratatouille? You could do worse than simply watching the TV series Treme.