Big Night (1996)


In 1950s New Jersey, two Italian brothers struggle to keep their restaurant open as a rival eatery woos their clientele. Part of the problem is a philosophical rift between the brothers, played by Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub. Tucci wants to give the public what they want, while Shalhoub wants to elevate their palettes. As their relationship fractures and the business hangs in the balance, they pin their hopes on a planned visit by famed singer/songwriter Louis Prima — and a meal for the ages.

Big Night is a quintessential 90s indie movie featuring a great cast in a heartwarming story that’s eager to please. Shalhoub is the MVP, playing a man who loves his brother dearly, but is prepared to leave the family business if it veers in a direction that’s anathema to him. The other standout is Ian Holm, who plays the rival restaurateur with energetic verve. The rest of the cast includes Isabella Rossellini, Allison Janney, and Minnie Driver, who are all terrific, if a tad underutilized.

Through its midpoint, Big Night is pleasant enough. It’s more compelling when Shalhoub is on-screen, less so during Tucci’s romantic subplots with Rossellini and Driver. But when the title moment finally arrives, the film really distinguishes itself in a ‘transportive’, escapist way. You’ll feel like you’re really there in this warm, quaint little diner, singing, dancing, playing games, surrounded by friends, and eating the meal of your life into the wee hours of the night.

With Marc Anthony and Campbell Scott. Directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott. Written by Stanley Tucci and Joseph Tropiano.

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