Following is a special, guest post by Sergia Flores…
Big Night: 10 Reasons Why It’s One of My All Time Favorite Films
Classic film blogger and creator of the soaring Once Upon a Screen recently texted me a question that made my head explode. It went like this: “What is your favorite movie of all time?” WHAT? Are you KIDDING me? ONE movie? No. So I texted back, “I can’t answer that.” And I winced in pain as I texted, my mind’s wheels spinning out of control, bouncing from names like The Godfather and Raging Bull to Singin’ in the Rain and only recently-seen City Lights (an experience I will never forget, offered by Citizen Screen herself, but I digress). Oh man, and then there are all those baseball movies…and all those Redford movies! No, no, no.
But she persisted.
And if I’m honest, there was one film that popped up in between all of those others. Whether or not it’s my favorite of all time, at all times, I can’t really say, but it’s the one I find myself recommending often, the one so very few have heard of or paid real attention to, and for those reasons alone, I text back, very slowly, Big Night (1996).
Written by Stanley Tucci and his cousin, Joseph Tropiano, directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, and starring Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, this is the film that made me take a good, long look at all-things-Tucci. He wrote it, he says, because he was tired of the same role. And thank God he did because the story, characters, performances, and dialogue are all so good, they make me wish I were a screenplay writer, a director, an actor, and an Italian chef named Primo.
Set sometime in the 1950’s and somewhere along the New Jersey shoreline, the story is centered around two motherland Italian brothers, Primo and Secondo, and the restaurant that they’re trying to save from financial ruin. Primo, the master chef and artist, is played by the gifted Mr. Shalhoub, and Secondo, the younger and more materially ambitious brother, is played by Mr. Tucci. Supporting cast members include a very young and silent Marc Anthony, who quietly floats in and out of many scenes as the restaurant’s singular waiter, Sir Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Campbell Scott, Allison Janney, Minnie Driver, and Liev Schrieber. (If that’s not a cast, I don’t know what is.)
What makes Big Night a personal favorite?
- It is a quiet movie. No one gets shot, nothing explodes, no one drops dead, no one’s clothes are torn off. The characters and the story line are all there is, and that’s all there needs to be.
- The central themes of family and loyalty, art vs. commerce, ambition vs. integrity, resonate deeply and eternally.
- It’s quotable. Granted, no one actually recognizes my references when I yell things like, “Make it, make it, make the pasta!” or “Bite your teeth into the ass of life!” But no matter. I yell them anyway. It exorcises the demons.
- It feels real. Familiar. And that – when I first saw it in 1996 – felt original.
- I was introduced to Louis Prima in this film and I’m a happier person for it. Many ugly moods and moments have been instantly lifted by one single play of “Buona Sera.” My gratitude is boundless.
- It gently but honestly exposes American excess, entitlement, and cultural ignorance. I’m happy to take the blow and learn from it. Thanks to this film I will never again order a starch with a starch.
- It is platitude, lesson, and resolution-free. It does not end with a nice bow wrapped around it or pretend to teach you anything. Nothing wrong is righted. No one is saved. I find that refreshing and courageous.
- Every character is memorable. From the main players to each of the faces that come together for the culinary feast at the restaurant, each one is recognizable, almost familiar, like an old neighborhood friend.
- Every scene is memorable. Most memorable is the last scene, [spoiler alert] in which the brothers sit and eat together. It is wordless and unhurried. From the ease of Tucci’s way with a frying pan to the conciliatory act of serving his hesitant brother a plate, to the way they sit next to each other, eventually reaching an arm over the other’s shoulder, so that you can almost see who they were as kids…You can’t take your eyes off it. Then, like Cristiano, the waiter, who walks out of the kitchen once the brothers are settled and eating together, you feel that should leave too. The camera does that for you.
- Finally, for those of us who dig Stanley Tucci, watching him flip an omelet is really enough.
If you haven’t watched it already, give it a try. It’ll feel good, I promise. And then, if Primo makes you feel like a Philistine, you can order the cookbook, written by Joan Tucci (Stanley’s mom)!
About the author: I’m hoping this is the first of many contributions Sergia Flores makes to this blog. Sergia is my cousin, the cousin lovingly known as Susu. I happen to know she’s one of those people who ingests movies while watching them. While not necessarily a classics fan Sergia’s views are unique, interesting and enjoyable. Sergia recently started her own blog, Sin Zapato, a barefoot blog wherein she’ll share insights on being. Take a look at it here.